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The toil behind the glitter

Bangalore, Rasheed Kappan, Oct 3, 2013, DHNS: 0:53 IST
DH Photo: Kishore Kumar Bolar
Battling the twisted tantrums of the moral police and the men in khakhi could get extremely tricky.

Ask the city’s women bartenders, employed in perfectly legal, licensed outlets spread across the city. They are now forced to endure taunts and humiliations by sleazy officials right in their workplaces, even while struggling to live a life of dignity braving heavy odds.
For 14 months, the city police had imposed a blanket ban on all bars employing women.

The discovery of a few outlets operating discotheques and dance girls using questionable documents had triggered this police action. But the vast majority of the licensed outlets who played by the rules, cried foul. An estimated 1,500 bar girls were left unemployed, and the outlet owners were rendered pennyless sparking even suicides. It took several protests and a prolonged legal battle before the bar owners finally won a Karnataka High Court verdict in their favour.

Yet, this shift did nothing to change the official perception of the women workers. At a licensed Ladies Service Bar (LSB) in Gandhinagar, where women serve food and liquor to customers, the pain was apparent. Amid the loud music, glitter and glamour lurked a set of women, who were at the mercy of plain-clothed policemen routinely harassing them.

In her late-twenties, Tabassum (name changed to protect identity) had her brother and sister to feed, back home in Rajasthan. Years of toil barely masked by the make-up she had to wear to be presentable at the bar, Tabassum recalled how officers, during raids, would constantly question her age, threaten her. She was far above the 21-year age limit fixed for women bar workers. But that hardly mattered.

“Although all of us have IDs to prove our age, they threaten us, abuse us and treat badly,” said she. During one such raid where there were no woman police as required, she and her colleagues were locked in a room and forced to stay put in the bar till 4 am, without a glass of water!

Triggering the police clampdown on the LSBs was a television expose of a bar that had blatantly violated every rule in the book. But that outlet and 14 others, as sources told Deccan Herald, were allowed to function on the strength of a shady document called “Discotheque-2 Licence.” This document masqueraded as a version of DL-1 obtained legally by star hotels to operate their discotheques, which had stringent conditions that included double door entry, dance floor in only a part of the building, entry fees, and adequate parking. The D-2 licence bars’ adherence to these conditions was only on paper, the sources.

said. The Court said no to all D-2 bars and on its directions, the State Government issued fresh guidelines for all bars that employed women. The LSBs had to impose a dress code for the women, ensure continuous CCTV camera coverage of their outlets and footage furnished to the police whenever asked. The bars complied, but were surprised that the police had never once inspected the footages. “Unless they do this, how can they track illegal activities. When they conduct a raid next time and find violations in a few outlets, they will impose another blanket ban and harass us. This cannot be done,” said an office-bearer of the Bangalore Ladies Working Bar & Restaurant Owners Association.

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