Bar Dancers Speak: Testimonies at Public Hearing 3
Duration: 00:09:36; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 19.046; Saturation: 0.290; Lightness: 0.126; Volume: 0.173; Cuts per Minute: 2.080; Words per Minute: 108.265
Summary: Dancing at beer bars started in Maharashtra in the ‘70s. These bars are popularly called Dance Bars. They were recognisable by the heavy door at the entrance and by the uniformed bouncers. In order to increase the revenue from alcohol sale the govt. kept issuing licenses for the dance bars and over the three decades these bars sprouted all over the state and specially in Bombay. In 2005 the Govt. proposed a bill to ban dancing at the bars on the pretext of public morality. But by then around 75,000 women were employed in the unorganized sector of bar dancing. Most of these women were migrants from the other parts of the state, country and the subcontinent. The proposal sparked a huge public debate on the issues of morality, sexuality and livelihood. The home minister in the state govt. R R Patil took it as a mission and persuaded it till the end. The civil society got vertically divided on the issue. While all the right wing outfits supported the ban, some old school women’s organizations too were vocal against bar dancing based on the argument of commodifying women’s body. Some feminist groups and other social movements campaigned against the ban foregrounding issues of right to livelihood, validity of sex based works and against moral policing. Amidst the frenzy of campaign and counter campaign the govt. implemented the bill on 15th August 2005, on the occasion of independence day of India. The act which rendered 70,000 women jobless was passed unanimously in the assembly, where all members including the communist party and women from various political parties cheered and voted for the bill. In the history of Indian democracy there are a very few bills that was passes with such absolute agreement. There were many theories for the Govt.’s motive to ban dance bars. Some says that it was a ploy to decrease the sale of beer and boost the outreach of wine as the wine industry had just started picking up in Maharashtra and many senior politicians were stake holders in wine industry. Some other claim that it was a populist measure to woo the middle class voters. Another theory ascribed the operation as an exercise to evict smaller eateries and pubs to make space for big franchises and multi-purpose eateries. It could also be a simple act of gentrifying the city.
Throughout this period the most active campaign against the ban was from the bar dancers union in collaboration with some feminists groups. Majlis legal centre filed a case challenging the ban in the Bombay high court on behalf of the bar dancers’ union. The Women’s Study dept., SNDT university along with Forum against oppression of women conducted a survey around the bars in the city and published the report in order to inform the general public.
Five days after the ban three city organisations Majlis, Pukar (Gender and Space unit), and Point of View organized a public hearing on the issue at KC College suditorium. Ten eminent citizens from various walks of life were invited to serve in the panel of Jury and hear the live testimonies of the retrenched dancers. The auditorium of around 700 capacity was chock-o-block with 500 bar dancers, members of bar owners association, family members of the bar dancers, concerned citizens and a large media presence. In this event some bar dancers gave testimonies.
Laxmi Lingam: Jury members here would also like to ask you some questions. Whoever would like to answer can use the mike below, and answer or you could come up and talk. Laksmi Lingam, professor at Women's Studies unit in Tata Institute of Social Sciences would like to ask some questions.My regards to everyone. I will speak in Hindi, though I don't speak it very well. I am not a Madrasi, but from Andhra. You have spoken a lot about the effect of the ban on you and your families. Many of you have raised the question whether you should sit at home hungry or do sex work. I am asking you to talk also about things in your lives that are connected with the government and police. People at various levels come to your workplace. It is also said that because of dance bars, young men are getting spoilt, and that society is becoming immoral. How do you respond to such allegations. You should speak about things like your relationship with government, police, the people who come into the bars too along with the obvious effects of the ban on your work. As jury, we would like to know these things from you too.
Wide top angle shot of the auditorium. The auditorium is full of bar dancers, a few bar owners, relatives of the bar dancers and large number of media personnel. Laxmi Lingam, faculty of Women's studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences decides to speak to the dancers instead of being passive listener. On behalf og the jury of the public hearing she addresses the retrenched bar dancers. She nicely starts with an introduction of herself where she makes it clear that she too is a migrant to the city from Andhra Pradesh. She tries to take the discussion to other issues involved rather than repeating the same things about livelihood. As is the problem of giving minute long sound bites to the media, the bar dancers have got used to repeating the most populist thing about being mothers, being responsible for the families or about providing education to younger people. It was difficult to bring them out of the rhetoric as they believed only that would make their case strong for the middle class society. It could even be a strategy to not voice other issues such as police harassment, job insecurity, sexual harassment at work place at this juncture.
sex based work
KC College, Bombay
r. r patil
Bar Dancer: Hello. We don't force people to come in our bars and give us money. If this is our business, what can we do? We have children…. We want to educate them, raise them… we don't go and touch anybody's feet in your society and ask them – please come to our dance bar, please give us money. We don't do all these. This is our profession. We don't sell our honour. We don't go into people's homes telling them to come in the bars and give us money. Bar Dancer 1: Madam, I would also like to answer your question. People say that because of the dancers, the society is becoming immoral. Now dance bars are in Bombay. Are there dance bars in Delhi and other places? We hear of various incidents there? Are dancers responsible for those too? (Applause)It's not the dancers who are responsible; people are responsible for their own actions. They just want to put all the blame on us. If people continue to label someone as thief for no reason, that person would sometime feel like trying out how it is to steal. (Applause.)
Top angle wide shot of the auditorium. One girl from the middle of the audience gets up and almost disrupts Laxmi Langam to answer her queries. She is a bit impatient to the naivety of the question. She ofcourse fails to understand that it was a ploy to make them speak beyond rhetorical pleas.The 10th Jury member, Pralhad Khakkar, famous ad filmmaker enters and takes his seat on the stage. Another bar dancer speaks from the audience. Camera tries to catch her , but she is sitting on the rare side of the auditorium and cannot be traced from the top angle camera placed on the balcony. So the camera pans on the audience.
Paromita (P): Our last jury member, Prahlad Kakkar, the well known ad film maker has also arrived. Nandini Sardesai- You did not answer the question on police involvement as raised by the jury member. We want to know about this from you as there are many rumours around this subject. This would help us make your cases stronger. And another thing that you did not answer directly is the allegation that is put on you for spoiling young men of so called "good homes" and that some bar dancers do sex work. You must answer these questions as these myths have to be dispelled. We know you all are going through a difficult time, your work has been snatched away from you, and you have dependants. But in order to make your case stronger you must answer the allegations that are put on you.
Wide shot of the panel of jory on the stage. Jury member Nandini Sardesai, sociologist and eminent educationist speaks to the bar dancer. It is getting difficult to discuss anything else other than the immediate need. Maybe nothing else matters to these women at this juncture. Blame, reputation, atrocity, health seem very remote in the face of present crisis of no job.
Again the camera cannot trace the girl from the sea of people. Slow pan over the audience. Only her impatient and little angry voice can be heard. Sex work continues to be the lowest denominator in the ladder of social stigma.
Bar dancer 2: Madam, you asked the question - what kinds of people come in the bars… police men or whatever. There are many kinds of people who come in the bars, we mostly don't know if they are police men, politicians or anyone else, their identities are not written on their foreheads. All of them ask us the same thing- if we'll meet them outside. You tell us what answer should be given to that. How should we tell you frankly what are the things they say to us. Today one of my child is in hospital with dengu fever. How should I pay for his treatment?. If my sick child can be treated again, if R.R Patil would help me in that, I don't have a problem. He has got dancing in the bars banned. He does not know that dance bar money supports my whole family. Now should I bring me whole family on streets, tell them to beg? You tell me what should I do?
r. r patil
Bar Dancer 3: Madam, You asked us about police. We have legal permission to run the dance bars till 1:30 at night. But the bars that run the whole night, run because of the police. They do take money and tell us you continue there would no raid from higher level. In case of a raid, they inform us upfront that – higher officers are coming on raids, shut down the bar. Then the issue that… the whole world say that in the dance bars the girls indulge in sex works (dhandha – business in literal translation). I would say in that case Mr. R R Patil has done great work by closing off the bars. The new generation of boys will not come to us… when they come we show them dance… sometimes if they are in mood for something else they ask us, we let it pass in jokes or sometimes scold and scream at them or in some occasion make a fool of them. Now that the bars are shut, these men with their desires will end up being in Kamathipura (red light area) and Pila house (Play house -entertainment district). Would R.R Patil be able to take control of that?
First time somebody speaks directly of role of the police. This is a catch 22 situation. They need to talk about police corruption in order to gain visibility and credibility. But that act itself would make the authority more vicious towards them. Their argument is that the dance bars work as some kind of safety bulb between hard core sex work and libido driven men.
Kamathipura, peela house
Kiran Nagarkar, the eminent novelist comes to mike to appeal to the bar dancers. Poet Arundhati Subramanium too asks directly about harassment from the bar owners. But at this moment the bar dancers and the bar owners are on the same boat that is rocking. It is not possible for them to talk about the bar owners, even if there are issues there. Such direct questions in a public forum make them unsure about where to pitch the argument. They know instinctively that this public hearing by itself is not the end of their misery. But… they would like to believe that it may make a big difference. So… what will be safe and wise?
Kiran Nagarkar- We understand that you all are very angry and in deep difficulty due to loss of your jobs. But if you can tell us calmly more about your lives as bar dancers, about other problems that you face. Just now somebody talked calmly about what the police do. But if you want to say something more about your life, if you can manage to say more then we will be benefited and people's understanding about you would improve. Arundhati Subramanium- I want to ask all of you just one question. Do you face any difficulty from bar owners? This is a question that comes up quite often? Do you face any difficulty or no?Bar dancers (in unison)- NO. From Police?No?Only from politicians, government?Silence.