As the Supreme Court, on Thursday, upheld the right of women bar dancers to pursue their profession, overturning the ban on dance bars across the state and directing the State government to issue licences to bar owners, former deputy chief minister RR Patil’s widow, Suman Patil and daughter, Smita, watched the news on television disappointed.

Also read: Supreme Court allows dance bars to reopen in Maharashtra

Suman and RR Patil at their Mumbai residence in 2004, a year before the state government imposed the ban for the first time. File pic
Suman and RR Patil at their Mumbai residence in 2004, a year before the state government imposed the ban for the first time. File pic

“It was shocking news. The verdict wouldn’t have made him [RR Patil] happy,” said Suman, 47, over the phone from Ajani in Sangli district. She now holds her late husband’s Assembly seat in Tasgoan-Kavthemahankal. Following the interim order from the apex court, that mandated regulation of dance bars instead of a ban, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis stressed that his government favours the latter.
 

According to Patil’s wife, Suman and daughter Smita, dance bars are disrespectful to women
According to Patil’s wife, Suman and daughter Smita, dance bars are disrespectful to women

However, Suman put the blame squarely on the ruling BJP-Sena government, about to complete one year in power, arguing that it should have done more to ensure the ban stayed. “The ban was overturned after a change in government. This was not expected of them. They have backstabbed us. Is this what achche din means?” she said, adding that although the controversial 2005 ban was a decision of the then ruling NCP-Congress alliance, opposition parties including the BJP had agreed to it on principle.

Also read: Mumbai dance bars open - Woman crusader sceptical about government

The ban on dance bars was bitterly protested by an estimated 75,000 women who were put out of jobs after close to 1500 bars shuttered across the state. File pic
The ban on dance bars was bitterly protested by an estimated 75,000 women who were put out of jobs after close to 1500 bars shuttered across the state. File pic

“It wasn’t on a whim that my husband had taken the decision [to ban]; there was a study conducted that revealed that bars encouraged anti-social elements. Even the Opposition had supported his decision,” she said.

The state government first banned dance bars in 2005, with Patil, who handled the Home portfolio, at the forefront of the decision. He got flak for linking dance bars to rising crime, and blaming dancers for broken homes, equating them with prostitutes. The move was bitterly contested by an estimated 75,000 women who were put out of jobs after close to 1500 bars shuttered across the state.

The leader wasn’t in the habit of discussing policy decisions at home, but Suman said he had discussed this radical decision with her. “Since he handled the Home portfolio, often, he’d have people complain to him about their young sons were squandering money on dancers. In one sad incident, he told me, a young man killed his mother because she refused to give him money to spend at dance bars.”

By questioning the ruling government’s commitment to continue to support the ban, she was invariably referring to the NCP’s resolve to see it stay, with Patil bulldozing through legislation to keep it thus. In 2013, the Supreme Court had upheld a Bombay High Court judgment striking down the 2005 order passed by the government to ban dance in bars and restaurants that enjoyed less than three-star status.

The state had passed the order by amending Section 33A of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, whereby dance was permitted in top-class hotels and prohibited in others. The Bench had said: “We see no rationale which would justify the conclusion that a dance that leads to depravity in one place would get converted to an acceptable performance by a mere change of venue.”

Patil, in June 2014, addressed the SC’s observation surrounding discriminating against classes of venues by getting the state legislature to amend the law, so that dance performances would be banned across every class of bar and restaurant in Maharashtra.

But in September the same year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge by the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (Ahar) to the renewed ban. Dance bars had not resumed operations despite the 2013 SC order because the state was refusing to renew dance bar licences. Suman said she hoped the government would make amends by filing a review petition. “If that happens, it will be a tribute to my late husband.”

Suman’s daughter Smita, a student of law and leader of NCP’s youth wing, said the ban was a move towards social transformation rather than a stunt. “Businessmen from as far as Gujarat would come to complain to my father about their sons languishing at Maharashtra’s dance bars. He was concerned about our generation.”

Threats, allegations
Patil’s ban saw the Dance Bar Owners Association threaten to make it difficult for wives of ministers to roam freely. Although seen as Mr Clean, Patil was accused of seeking bribes when he refused to withdraw the ban.

Also read: Maharashtra govt in favour of ban on dance bars, says Maha CM Devendra Fadnavis

The allegations were taken up in the Assembly as a breach of privilege, and the association’s president, Manjit Singh Sethi was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

“Even though there was strong opposition from stakeholders, my father received tremendous support from those suffering the ill effects of dance bars. I wish the (BJP) government had worked systematically to make the ban permanent,” Smita said.