For women's sake, don't bar dance

One would have expected the Maharashtra government to accept the Supreme Court’s interim order staying the ban on Mumbai’s dance bars. The apex court, after all, has pointed out that the law banning the dance bars was unconstitutional and affected the livelihood of at least 75,000 women and their dependent families. Instead, it is unfortunate that State Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has indicated that the government will press the court for a total ban.

The court, recognising that there could be instances of dance bars crossing the line, in its order, allowed the police to regulate obscenity during dance routines, where necessary. But this does not seem to have satisfied the government which, irrespective of the political party in power, has been hell bent on shutting down the dance bars. This is not the first time that the courts have ruled against banning dance bars. The Bombay High Court struck it down in 2006, a year after the ban was imposed initially in 2005. The government got a stay from the Supreme Court and reportedly delayed proceedings until the apex court firmly asked it to complete its arguments. Eventually, in 2013, the court struck down the ban. The government, in 2014, reframed the law making the ban
applicable to all, including five-star hotels and clubs. It is this ban that the apex court stayed on October 15. It is clear from this that the government is unwilling to swallow the fact that the ban is unconstitutional and goes against the fundamental right of an individual to practice her profession.

If the government had cited at least a set of valid reasons justifying the ban, its obduracy could have been understandable. But, as the court has pointed out, the government has never been able to convincingly justify why it is insistent on the ban other than for moral reasons. In fact, the manner in which the government is hounding the dance bars and the women depending on it is Talibanesque. In an open, democratic society like India, morality cannot be an excuse to pass dubious laws that infringe on the rights of its citizens. The court has done very well in resisting the vacuous arguments of the government and restored not just the jobs of the bar dancers but along with it, their dignity. There might be a small rogue section that could keep the dance bar as front for activities frowned upon by law but that does not mean the government should ‘throw the baby with the bathwater’. Instead, the police should be alert to extra-legal activities and selectively clamp down on offenders.

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