The Supreme Court ruling in favour of Mumbai’s dance bars came as a relief not just to the establishments that have remained closed since 2005 but also to starry-eyed village girls in far off states.
Badnapur, a nondescript village in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior district, is what one would call a red-light area — a place with a concentration of prostitution and sex-oriented businesses — and Mumbai offers its girls a chance at a “respectable life”.
“Our area is known as a red light area but we know how dark it is and there is no end to darkness here,” said Gudiya.
And the impact Mumbai has had on Badnapur is apparent from the grand houses and SUVs that punctuate the line of thatched huts. “After closure of the dance bars in Mumbai, a good number of women returned to the village with a considerable amount of money and built the houses. But to sustain, they had to do something. Hence, they were compelled to choose prostitution,” she said.
No wonder the SC order to open the dance bars a decade after they were banned by the Maharashtra government was welcomed with joyous dance to the latest Bollywood hits. “About 25 girls have already left for Mumbai and the rest are practising,” said Gudiya.
A similar sense of relief prevailed in villages in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district. Girls here share the same story of poverty, hardship and prostitution, and the hope of a good life in Mumbai.
Priti, who belongs to a denotified tribe in Badgaon, used to earn Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000 a month as a dancer until she, like many others, was forced to return to her earlier life as a sex worker after the bars closed. But now, she hopes to return.
“The younger and prettier girls opt for Mumbai as they can earn well,” Priti said, adding that those who don’t leave will continue to cater to truck drivers on the Ajmer-Jaipur highway.
In addition to being profitable, Mumbai also offers these women a chance to lead a life of dignity. “In our community, girls are born into prostitution. Even for men it’s difficult to live a dignified life. People always look at us with suspicion,” said a man in Badnapur.
“This is the last chance for us,” said Gudiya.
The girls now hope to earn enough to never have to go back to flesh trade, so the next generation doesn’t have to face the stares and judgement of society that considers their profession immoral.
[All names changed to protect identity]