I am no advocate of dance bars. But the sudden closure of legitimately licensed businesses, without responsibility for loss of state revenue, needs a discussion. And, a blanket ban only covers the failure of police and enforcement machinery and the corruption involved in granting bar licences. It also sets the stage for bigger payoffs to reverse the ban, or to turn a blind eye when the business goes underground.
Maharashtras home minister is outraged at dance bars catering to a more affluent class of people. But is not anguished at Mumbais flesh bazaars at Kamathipura and Falkland Road. Patils posturing denies reality, engenders greater corruption. And increases the pressure on a class of underprivileged and barely literate women, who have a limited career span and are already very vulnerable to exploitation and sexually transmitted disease. Maharashtras politicians and police are constantly trying to shut down the city before midnight (the BJP had tried to close dance bars at 8.30 pm) since there are bigger payoffs when business is turned illegal. It is always an economic issue, rather than one of security, safety or morality.
Nine years ago, a foreign businessman told the chairman of a financial institution that people from his country found Mumbai boring, because it had no nightlife. Since then, Mumbai nightlife, which was discreetly underground, came out in the open. Today there are 700 dance bars in Mumbai and another 650 in the rest of Maharashtra. They allegedly employ 75,000 bar girls. Dance bars offering a five-star ambience are routinely patronised by expatriates and rich traders. Society parties feature risque entertainment and five-star hotels routinely host belly dancers. I know several businessmen who think its fun to visit dance bars in mixed groups that include their wives.
In these circumstances, the ban on licensed dance bars that apparently earn the state around Rs 1,500 crore a year in official revenue (claim bar owners) is hypocritical. Dance bars have proliferated because the excise department freely granted licences, without bothering with the rules. Such bars cannot be set up near schools, places of worship, or close to the main highways. Shouldnt Patils drive have started by weeding out illegal operations and punishing government officials responsible for granting permissions He must also find out how many bars are owned by politicians and policemen; their connections are no secret. These measures would have substantially eliminated illegitimate operations.
It was the states excise department that had freely granted licences
The ban will end state revenue, but not the exploitation of bar girls
So long as lewd music videos can freely enter our living rooms and salacious advertisements (including Hindustan Levers latest advertisements for soap and ice-cream) are beamed on news channels at prime time, let us not pass moral judgement about the business of dance bars. More important, let the state not lose revenue and also encourage exploitation, while larger sums of money flow into the coffers of unscrupulous netas and thane-dars in the form of bribes.