In her book, Bans & Bar Girls, Professor Sameena Dalwai examines the caste politics that went into bringing the ban on dance bars in Mumbai and explains why the ban was squarely targeted to punish the women and protect the so-called “Indian culture”.
It took almost two decades of dizzying popularity before the dance bars of Mumbai came to be seen as a threat to society. The problem wasn’t with the existence of the bars, but the bar dancers who were raking in “easy money” by “flaunting their flesh” and “fleecing men”, which began to wound the newfound sensibilities of ‘modern’ India.
So much so that when the Maharashtra government’s decision to ban dance bars came on August 16, 2005, rendering more than 75,000 women jobless almost overnight, it was seen not as a punitive measure against the illegality of the industry, but the alleged immorality of it all.
In Bans and Bar Girls, published by Women Unlimited, Sameena Dalwai examines the timing of the ban and the caste politics that went into bringing it into effect.
She shows how globalisation and India’s economic liberalisation of 1991 led to the rise of dance bars in Maharashtra, which opened up newer work opportunities for lower caste women from dancing and courtesan communities. Here, they not only got a chance to earn well, but also found their dignity and status restored, while employing their traditional skills.
Far from being exploitative, dance bars, Dalwai finds, are a place of fantasy, an equalising space, where the lines between caste, class and religion blur. For a city obsessed with Bollywood, she describes how the dance bars lend men the dream of becoming heroes in their own films. They offer an erotic intrigue that no brothel provides.
In an interview with Mirror, Dalwai, who is a Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for Women, Law and Social Change at Jindal Global Law School, explains why the ban was squarely targeted to punish the women and protect the so-called “Indian culture”.
Published in: Mumbai Mirror
To read the full interview, please click here.