Justice done

The Supreme Court has corrected a serious wrong by lifting the ban imposed by the Maharashtra government on dance bars in the state in 2005. There was no legal justification for the ban as the government itself probably knew when it pushed through an amendment to the Bombay Police Act in the state Assembly to close down the bars.

If it didn’t, it should have realised it when the governor returned the bill to it and later when the Bombay high court struck it down on the ground that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional as it impinged on the right to livelihood of a large number of people. The Supreme Court has now upheld the high court’s view and told the government in clearer terms what it had refused to heed all along.

The government entered the uncertain area of moral policing with the ban. It cannot ban a social and business activity on the mere presumption that it will corrupt the minds of young people or disrupt families. One most untenable reason for the ban was that it was needed to ensure the safety of women who performed in the bars. Protection is not to be ensured by banning the public appearance and activity of women or any  section of society. The most unjustifiable aspect of the ban was that it was applicable only to ordinary  bars and eating houses, and higher-end hotels and establishments were exempted from it. As the court noted, a performance does not become acceptable by a change of venue. It cannot also be assumed that the clientele of the higher-end establishments have higher standards of conduct and morality and that the performers are safer there.

The ban resulted in loss of livelihood  for thousands of people. It is estimated that about 75,000 women and over two lakh others who were dependent on the dance bars were thrown out of their jobs. The ban actually made many women more insecure because they were pushed into more risky means of livelihood like prostitution. Some males took to crime. Some bars went underground  and continued to function under police patronage. The government also lost substantial revenue. If the government is concerned about the safety of women working in the bars, it can take steps for that, and as the court suggested, propose some regulation. Unfortunately the government and the state’s political establishment are planning to further pursue their wrong and counter-productive campaign.

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