Apex court comes as saviour for bar dancers

SC upholds Bombay High Court verdict quashing the ban

Apex court comes as saviour for bar dancers

The Supreme Court on Tuesday came as a saviour for bar dancers by allowing them to follow their profession as a matter of their fundamental right.

The apex court upheld a Bombay High Court verdict quashing the controversial ban on dance bars. It dismissed the appeal filed by Maharashtra government, which had banned dance bars in 2005.

A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice S S Nijjar maintained that the prohibition violated the right to carry on one’s profession.

The court favoured a number of “imaginative alternative steps” if the real concerns was about women’s safety. With the ruling, the state government would have to issue licences on fresh requests to run dance bars.

The matter concerned the validity of Section 33A of the Bombay Police Act, 2005. While section 33A prohibited “any type of dancing” in an “eating house, permit room or beer bar”, Section 33B allowed dance performances at drama theatres, cinema theatres, auditoriums, sports clubs or gymkhanas, “three-starred and above hotels”, or any other establishment getting special permission from the government.

“The end result of the prohibition of any form of dancing in the establishments covered under Section 33A leads to the only conclusion that these establishments have to shut down. This is evident from the fact that since 2005, most if not all the dance bar establishments have literally closed down. This has led to the unemployment of over 75,000 women workers. It has been brought on the record that many of them have been compelled to take up prostitution out of necessity for maintenance of their families. In our opinion, the impugned legislation has proved to be totally counter productive and cannot be sustained being ultra vires Article 19(1)(g),” the bench said.

The court instead recommended for adopting certain measures to ensure safety of women as recommended by a committee in 2005, including maintaining a register of such dancers.

The bench rejected the state government’s contention that it was possible to control performances conducted in the establishments like three-star hotels falling within definition of Section 33B.

“The reasons advanced only highlight the stereotype myths that people in upper strata of society behave in orderly and moralistic manner. There is no independent empirical material to show that propensity of immorality or depravity would be any less in these high class establishments,” the bench said in its 133-page verdict.The apex court bench agreed with the High Court’s view that the ban was Constitutionally impermissible, for prohibiting dances in certain establishments while permitting them in few others infringed on the Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. It also accepted the rationale of the High Court verdict that the state government’s decision was unreasonable and failed to qualify as a “reasonable restriction” under Article 19 (6) of the Constitution.

Justice Kabir, writing a separate but concurring verdict, said, “It is necessary to work towards a change in mindset of people in general not only by way of laws and other forms of regulations, but also by way of providing suitable amenities for those who want to get out of this trap and to either improve their existing conditions or to begin a new life altogether.”

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