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Mumbai is hotspot for 'body shops'

india Updated: Dec 13, 2006 18:31 IST

Dolly, who came from Bangladesh to work in a Mumbai bar, has visited Hong Kong, China, Dubai and Kenya to "service her clients" in just six months. She, like other former dance bar employees, is looking for a viable livelihood.

After leaving her native Kakulia village in Jessore district of Bangladesh, Dolly, 19, joined a bar in the north-western suburb of Dombivili for a monthly pay of Rs.4,000.

However, the bar owner asked her if she was willing to make a fortnight's trip to Hong Kong and mainland China. As the payment offer was 10 times her salary, she agreed. A series of stints in "body shops" followed where Indian girls are preferred to their Chinese counterparts.

Of course, Dolly is not the only one. According to a study by the Bharatiya Bar Girls Union, an association formed to protect the rights of dance bar girls, thousands of youngsters - mostly from poor north-eastern states and neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal - are lured by Mumbai's lure of a better lifestyle.

"Dolly is not the only one. Over the past six months, at least 5,000 girls from the north-eastern states and Bangladesh have reached Mumbai's bars through agents and pimps. Once here, the agents give them an option to visit foreign countries on short trips," says Varsha Kale, the president of the Bharatiya Bar Girls Union.

In the aftermath of the closure of the dance bars in India's financial and entertainment capital, Mumbai has turned into a human-trafficking transit point for far-flung spots in the world and local exotic destinations, she said.

"The most popular short trips are to Hong Kong, China, the Gulf, the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, Mauritius and Uganda.

"Once these girls reach Mumbai, they are kept in new ghettoes that have come up over the past months in the north-western and central suburbs of Dombivili, Chembur, Thane and Navi Mumbai," added Kale.

"These girls are very vulnerable and fall prey to international flesh traders. Mumbai is notoriously emerging as South Asia's main transit point of this clandestine industry globally," she said.

The closure of dance bars for over a year and a half led to many of the former bar girls being employed in massage parlours in Goa. Fresh batches of girls have descended on the coastal state for Christmas and New Year, the six-month study conducted along with a Goa-based NGO said.

"Massage parlours are a flourishing business in Goa now. Many hotels and shacks along beaches employ former dance bar girls as masseurs. And during the festive season, there will be a great demand for the girls. Money is also comparatively good during the festive season," Kale said.

In July last year, the Maharashtra assembly banned dance bars across the state by adopting a bill. From Aug 15 last year, the ban was implemented across the state.

The ban forced bar girls to go to the Gulf and other states, wait tables, dance at parties, or, in many cases, turn to prostitution in order to survive. Some have even committed suicide in despair, as the state has not been forthcoming with rehabilitation measures.

However, in April this year, the Bombay High Court ruled the ban as unconstitutional and gave the state eight weeks to file its case with the Supreme Court. The case is pending hearing.

Prior to the ban, Mumbai had some 1,500 dance bars, which contributed Rs.15 billion to the state exchequer and employed nearly 50,000 girls, mostly from outside Maharashtra and many from outside the country.

The dance bars usually entertained customers looking for food, liquor and sometimes sex. In dim-lit environs, women donned skimpy outfits and danced to film music.