“The cure is worse than the disease.” This is what the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while upholding the Bombay high court’s quashing of the ban on dance bars.
“In our opinion, it would be more appropriate to bring about measures which should ensure the safety and improve the working conditions of the persons working as bar girls,” a bench of the Chief Justice of India Altmas Kabir and justice SS Nijjar said dismissing the Maharashtra Government’s appeal against the high court’s order.
“The right to practise a trade or profession and the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 (of Constitution) are, by their very nature, intermingled with each other, but in a situation like the present one, such right cannot be equated with unrestricted freedom like a run-away horse... it would be better to treat the cause than to blame the effect and to completely discontinue the livelihood of a large section of women, eking out an existence by dancing in bars, who will be left to the mercy of other forms of exploitation,” the CJI, who wrote a separate and concurring judgment, said.
“The compulsion of physical needs has to be taken care of while making any laws on the subject. Even a bar dancer has to satisfy her hunger, provide expenses for her family and meet day-to-day expenses in travelling from her residence to her place of work, which is sometimes even as far as 20 to 25km away,” Justice Kabir said.
“Women worldwide are becoming more and more assertive of their rights and want to be free to make their own choices, which is not an entirely uncommon or unreasonable approach. But 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,” the CJI said.
Highlighting that discontinuance of bar dancing led to closure of a large number of establishments resulting in loss of employment for about 75,000 women, the CJI noted that many of these “unfortunate people were forced into prostitution merely to survive, as they had no other means of survival.”
Terming it a “Hobson's choice between starving and in resorting to bar dancing”, the CJI said, “From the materials placed before us and the statistics shown, it is apparent that many of the bar dancers have no other option as they have no other skills, with which they could earn a living. Though some of the women engaged in bar dancing may be doing so as a matter of choice, not very many women would willingly resort to bar dancing as a profession.
“Whichever way one looks at it, the matter requires the serious attention of the State and its authorities, if the dignity of women, as a whole, and respect for them, is to be restored,” the CJI said.
“...instead of generating unemployment, it may be wiser for the State to look into ways and means in which reasonable restrictions may be imposed on bar dancing, but without completely prohibiting or stopping the same.
“It is all very well to enact laws without making them effective. The State has to provide alternative means of support and shelter to persons engaged in such trades or professions, some of whom are trafficked from different parts of the country and have nowhere to go or earn a living after coming out of their unfortunate circumstances. A strong and effective support system may provide a solution to the problem.”
Ban, not dance bars, fed flesh trade
Mumbai: In August 2012, police rescued 36 women from Delhi who were being taken to the Gulf as part of a sex racket. The operation hit on an international racket, fed by the ban on dance bars, which made thousands jobless. The tip-off came from a girl who used to work at a dance bar.
She was taken on an Arabian 'junket' as part of a "cultural troupe" and then was forced to entertain customers. "It is a misconception that bar dancers were into flesh trade. The ban pushed them to desperation," said Pravin Agarwal, one of the petitioners against the ban.