At Mumbai’s dance bars, one ban was the start of many journeys

About 50,000 women in the city were left without a job when the state government in 2005 enforced a ban to stop them from dancing in bars.

The profession had helped the girls, most of whom were from traditional ‘performing’ castes such as Gandharva and Bedia, earn thousands of rupees every day and survive in the city with their families.

Nearly half the girls slipped into prostitution after the ban, said Varsha Kale, president of the Bhartiya Bar Girls’ Union.

“While the dancers were affected directly, the 21,000 waitresses and 4,000 singers also suffered as they lost their jobs to the dancers. In fact, most of the suicides after the ban were by waitresses who were replaced by dancers,” she added.

While prostitution became an option for many of the women, some went overseas on dance contracts to places such as Singapore and the Gulf countries.

“Most of these girls had no other option but to get into prostitution, if not on a full-time basis, at least once in a while, to support their families,” said Prabha Desai, director of Sanmitra Trust, which has been providing vocational training and education to bar girls.

In 2011, the trust joined hands with the Yashwantrao Chavan Open University to offer sex workers and bar girls a chance to complete their education.

More than 50 of them have cleared their board exams through the centre over the past two years.

While many of the bar dancers stayed in the industry, shifting to jobs such as singing or waiting on customers, some were able to leave that world behind and have taken up other jobs in the beauty industry, housekeeping, or sales.

“Many girls from higher income groups moved to the beauty industry, and some even started their own shops and salons. Those from the middleincome group mostly went into the garment sector for tailoring and running shops, while girls from the lowest income groups took up house-keeping,” said Kale. “However, most do not earn as much as they did in the bars.”


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