'Obscenity': A dangerous weapon in the hands of the moral brigade

The Supreme Court ruling striking down the ban on bar dancing is welcomed with great jubilation by the Bar Owners Association. This is the third court victory for the bar owners and the dancers since the ban was first introduced in 2005 on the ground of public morality, which rang the death knell for the famous night life of Mumbai, the city that never sleeps.

Since then, despite various court victories, the bars have never reopened. The dancers who were the mainstay of these bars have left the city and faded into oblivion, unable to withstand the harsh life of the city, in which they had performed and entertained thousands of patrons each night. For the courts, in all its rulings, the concern has always been the right of the dancers to earn a living.

For instance, in 2013, while upholding the judgement of the Bombay High Court which had struck down the ban imposed in 2005, the Supreme Court had commented: “Depriving a person of their right to dance and earn a livelihood violated the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to life which included the right to livelihood.

Many of these unfortunate people were forced into prostitution merely to survive... The compulsion of physical needs has to be taken care of while making any laws… Even a bar dancer has to satisfy her hunger, provide for her family and meet her day to day expenses.”

It is ironic that our “conservative” courts have been their only saviors, and tried to bring them solace, not the ordinary people who had taken great pleasure in visiting the bars and reveling in their dancing. The very people who were entertained by the dancers for over three decades, were suddenly bayed for their blood, brandishing the wand of morality.

Even now, despite the positive rulings of the apex court, it is doubtful that the state legislature, which had voted unanimously to bring about a ban across the political divide, will allow the bars to reopen and the girls to dance and earn a living with dignity and protection.

The rider provided by the Supreme Court will be used as a handle to constantly harass them using the stick of “obscenity” since the Supreme Court has provided a wide scope by using the phrase, “no performance of dance will be remotely expressive of any kind of obscenity” without defining the phrase. And this is being done so that the “the individual dignity of the woman performer is not harmed”.

Flavia Agnes is a women’s rights lawyer and had represented the bar dancers before the Bombay High Court in 2006

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