Everything You Need to Know About India’s Ban on Dance Bars

Can you visit dance bars now? What rules do you have to keep in mind? What is the history of the ban on dance bars?

Updated
Podcast
3 min read

"Everybody dance now!"

Yes, yes, yes! That's probably what MANY people are thinking today. The Supreme Court overturned a 2005 ban on dance bars in Mumbai, and in a victory for fundamental rights allowed them to reopen.

In this episode of the Big Story podcast, The Quint looks at the ban on dance bars in India's commercial capital – Mumbai, and the verdict that lifted the ban.

Click on the player below to listen to the podcast:

We spoke to bar dancers, bar owners, and the lawyers who represented them.

Let's rewind to 2005.

Mumbai had at least 700 dance bars. Of these only 307 were legal. The others were all operating under the table, illegally. But all this would soon come to a grinding halt. Several MLAs from the rural areas of Maharashtra said, these bars corrupted people's minds. And after making a lot of noise, they finally got their way.

On India's 59th Independence Day, at midnight, every dance bar in Mumbai was ordered to close down. A total of 1.5 lakh people were left unemployed. And 75,000 of them were women. They lost their job almost overnight. Many moved to other parts of the country like Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata.

When I was working in the bars, I could give my kids good education. But then, when they shut, I had to send my kids away. When the ban was implemented in 2005, a lakh or so girls lost their job. So many girls lost their job because of the ban. So many of us committed suicide. Many were forced to resort to prostitution.
Shabnam Raj, former dancer

However, many bars continued to operate illegally. The Supreme Court finally lifted the ban on dance bars in 2013 by upholding the Bombay High Court which said the same thing in 2006. But, Maharashtra wasn't done.

The Maharashtra government passed an ordinance in 2014 to reinstate the ban. The Supreme Court again said, that was unconstitutional, but Maharashtra found a workaround and passed a Bill in 2016, which put heavy restrictions on these bars, and made it almost impossible for them to function.

Cut to 17 January 2019. The Supreme Court has given a verdict that has diluted many parts of this Bill and upheld some parts. This verdict will give the dance bars more freedom to operate.

This is what the court said:

  • First. The dancers must have a contract of employment with the bar.
  • Second. Alcohol can be served where the dancers are, and third, customers can tip dancers directly. Earlier, the act had said there should be a separation between the area where the women dance and where alcohol is served.
  • The court also said that CCTV cameras won't be allowed because they violate privacy. It also removed a provision that said, dance bars need to be at least one kilometre away from educational institutions and religious places.

While they did say this, the court also upheld some provisions from the act.

Like the one that said, dance bars can only stay open from 6 pm to 11:30 pm.

And the one that people can't SHOWER the dancers with money. Customers can give dancers money, but not shower it on them and say, "Make it raaaain."

And the court also said that someone's "good character" can't be a reason to give them a license for a dance bar.

This verdict gives many women, who lost their job, another chance at earning a livelihood.

I’m old now, but in the future, women can dance and earn a living, and support their children.
Shabnam Raj, former dancer

(With inputs from PTI and Times of India.)

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