“By banning dancing at bars to protect the dignity of women, the government pushed us into prostitution and exploitation,” alleges Mona, 38, who now works as a waitress at a ‘service bar’.
When the government banned dance bars in 2005, it left 75,000 bar dancers unemployed and vulnerable, and over the last eight years, many of these women have been pushed into prostitution, drugs and crime.
The slums of Malwani in Malad (west) is home to more than 1,500 dance bar girls, most of whom say the ban has ruined their lives. Kajal, 28, a single mother who used to work as a bar dancer in the suburbs and supports her parents, said the ban pushed her into prostitution. “I am the sole breadwinner. We lived comfortably when I was working as a bar dancer as I would earn up to Rs4,000 a day,” she said. “After the ban, I did not have any income so I started servicing my regular customers from bars in hotels and lodges.”
Many others were forced to work at service bars. “When we worked as bar dancers, there was always a distance between our customers and us. They were never allowed to touch us,” said Mona, who hails from Bihar. “But after the ban, we had no choice but to work as waitresses, where we had to sit next to customers and get touched and groped. We had to do everything short of sex,” she said.
These women had to also be wary of the police and live with the indignity of constantly being picked up during raids and being put in remand homes or jails. “In 2006, I was picked up from a Dahisar bar where I worked as a waitress. We were kept in jail for two days,” Mona said. “The police treated us like prostitutes and didn’t even give us water. The bar owner would get food and water for us, and helped us get bail.”
“I would earn up to Rs. 5,000 every day at the dance bar as tips and was able to run my house comfortably. After the ban, I had to sell my jewellery and borrow money so that my children could complete their education,” said Roopa, who hails from Kanpur.
(Names changed on request)