It has only become worse for bar girls post the state-imposed ban on dance bars, according to a study conducted by Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT University and Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW).
Releasing the study, After the Ban – Women Working in Dance Bars, before the media on Monday, Varsha Kale of the Bar Girls Association, said the study revealed increased societal vulnerability and restricted space for negotiation have added to their fight against the moral policing of the state.
The study, which questioned 80 women employed in 22 dance bars in Mumbai, reports that harassment, verbal abuse and demands for sexual services have increased tremendously.
According to a bar girl quoted in the report: “Customers say you don’t dance, how can you take money from us? We have no education and therefore it is not possible to do anything else. There was nothing wrong in dancing. Now we have been forced into prostitution. Apart from increased harassment from customers, there is greater harassment from the police.”
All the subjects interviewed left bars immediately after the imposition of the ban. They returned after the Bombay High Court verdict ruled in their favour.
However, because of the stay granted in the case, now being heard by the Supreme Court, bar owners chose to keep the bars running by hiring women to work in the orchestra or as waitresses. The immediate effect has been a reduction in their income — and more exploitation.
Kale said: “As waitresses, the proximity to customers has increased, which makes it possible for them to make passes and try to get personal. While I had predicted that bar girls would now be forced into prostitution, I was still shocked when I found a bar girl looking out for a customer at 2.30 am because she had no option left.”
Earnings have reduced drastically. Most of the 80 women surveyed had their incomes reduced to less than half, many had earnings slashed to one-third of the original — and some now earn a tenth of their earlier pay.
Of the 80 women interviewed, 46 said they had used up all their savings in the nine months since the ban. Most savings were in the form of jewellery and were sold or pawned. Some mentioned selling off flats and moving to rented tenements, while some spoke of selling and mortgaging property in their villages.
Unfortunately, a large impact, of this ban is also on education. Some of the women came from families who could not even afford basics such as school uniforms and books. Prior to the ban, a large proportion of the income of the women was spent on educating their children, siblings or nieces and nephews, who have now been put in government schools or their education has been stopped altogether.
The study has dealt with several other aspects, including impact on food and diet, housing, healthcare among others. The recommendations to handle the situation vary from imparting skills for livelihood to healthcare and regulation of working conditions. But the basic recommendation is also the basic demand — lift the ban.