Out-of-work bar dancers in Mumbai have decided to contest the upcoming elections to the city council in a bid to fight the ban on dance bars and to be empowered politically.
The former bar girls said they would contest the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls slated for Feb 1, either by aligning with a political party or as independent candidates.
Of the 227 seats in BMC, they intend to contest in around 50-52.
In 2005, the Maharashtra government implemented a ban on dance bars across the state saying that they corrupted youth and bred prostitution and crime.
The aftermath of the ban witnessed an exodus of the estimated 75,000 bar girls to other states and even abroad to find work.
According to media reports, many of the women now wait tables, dance at parties, or have turned to prostitution to survive. Some have committed suicide.
"We have lost a lot of time begging and pleading for our rights. It is time now that we too assert ourselves politically," Manjit Singh Sethi, president of the Fight for Rights of Bar Owner's Association said.
"We will float a party on Sunday and contest the BMC polls. We will decide whether to contest the polls independently or represent political parties."
"Now we will try to find representation in the administration so that our rights are addressed," he added.
But a bar girls' trade union is more cautious.
"Though many of the girls are enthusiastic about contesting the polls, we must ensure that in our enthusiasm we do not become a laughing stock," said Varsha Kale, chief of the Bharatiya Dance Bar Girls' Union.
"Winning elections will definitely empower the girls but we do not expect drastic changes in our lives."
The bar girls say the ban on the popular nightspots is illegal as it violates their right of choosing their livelihood.
"The dance bars were hardly X-rated as the authorities claim. Most of us who danced to popular Bollywood numbers wore saris," argued Chandi Khan, a former dancer who is a likely candidate in the elections.
"By winning the election and participating in the administration of the city, we will not only give a fitting reply to those who banned us, we will also expose the double standards of the politicians."
"We will expose politicians who, under the cover of darkness, visit dance bars and then speak a different language in the state assembly."
"What is more interesting is that most outstation politicians who visit Mumbai spend their day at meetings but visit us during the night," Khan said.
Kale said the idea of contesting the civic polls came about after a bar girl and a bar owner won a village council election in Maharashtra last year.
The bar owners and dancers had petitioned the Bombay High Court which 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 20 billion to the exchequer and employed nearly 75,000 young women, mostly from outside Maharashtra and many from outside the country.
The dance bars, usually had women entertaining customers looking for food, liquor and sometimes sex. In many of these places, dancers donned skimpy outfits and mingled with the customers while dancing to film music.