Lindsay Pereira Column: Making a song and dance about it

For a state that has failed to ensure safety for women, Maharashtra sure seems keen to protect bar girls

The year 2016 may not be a particularly entertaining one for most of us who work, what with the struggle of our daily commute and the pressure to actually do something, unlike government employees who are never really expected to do much. It will be entertaining for the Mumbai police though, thanks to new rules from the government that focus on the reopening of dance bars.

File pic
File pic

The ban on dance bars was struck down in the latter half of 2015 because it violated the bar dancers’ rights to a livelihood. Considering the ban must have affected the livelihood of a number of policemen too, this must have been a welcome development for all kinds of people. Naturally though, this has prompted the government to fight back with new rules, simply because it can’t have its inane arguments shot down in public by any court. And that is why police stations will soon get live video feeds from dance bars.

Apparently, this is being done to make sure there is no vulgarity and the dancers’ dignity is not compromised in any way. In keeping with the ambiguous nature of most government rules, no one is quite clear about what sort of vulgarity will be permitted. Is one pelvic thrust okay while dancing to Sheila ki Jawaani, for instance? After all, Katrina Kaif thrusts her pelvis repeatedly on the big screen, for much of the duration of that song. If that was allowed, one assumes a few dancers replicating the move may be permitted as well. No one’s sure about how anyone’s dignity may or may not be compromised either. Will there be booklets published, with illustrations to help local policemen identify a compromising gesture or dance move?

Those aren’t the only requirements. There cannot be more than four dancers on a floor at a time, presumably because science and history have proved time and again that five people gyrating in an enclosed space can trigger a riot or ensure a general weakening of moral fibre. There should also be a minimum of two metres distance between the performers and customers. This won’t be a problem for tall men, obviously, or men with abnormally long arms, but the government must have commissioned a census to gauge the number of such men in the state before coming up with that rule. After all, our government isn’t in the habit of making rules without thinking about them carefully for at least a few minutes.

Finally, we have been told that these rules are necessary because the government wants to make sure there will be no scope for ‘the exploitation of women’. That is what makes me laugh loudest. I can buy into the ludicrous image of a designated policeman at every station hunched over a monitor every evening, documenting what every dancer at every bar is doing, making sure there are just four dancers on the floor while the men are two whole metres away. What I can’t get over is the hypocrisy of that statement regarding exploitation.

This is a government that has failed to make the lives of women safe on every count. It has been rapped on the knuckles repeatedly for its failure to ensure protection on local trains, questioned about why there aren’t enough functioning toilets for women across the city, pilloried for doing nothing to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace despite the passing of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act in 2013. And here is it, beating its bureaucratic chest, trying to prevent the exploitation of women at dance bars.

Look at the police’s record when it comes to dealing with women who aren’t dancers. They have been caught on camera repeatedly, either assaulting them, humiliating them for being out with their boyfriends or fiancés, even rejecting their pleas for all kinds of FIRs until intervention from a court. And these are the people who are suddenly to take on the mantle of protectors for poor women pushed into dancing for lack of alternative employment? Who do you think will do most of the exploiting?

One would assume the police have little to do, given that they are being tasked with the monitoring of dance moves. And maybe that’s true. Maybe crime doesn’t exist in Mumbai anymore. Maybe the daily stories of murder, rape and extortion are figments of our imagination. And maybe the safest place to be in our metropolis will soon be a dance bar, provided we’re the ones doing the dancing.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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