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.
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
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
“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.”
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.
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.
Majeed Memon, Advocate
The Supreme Court had absolutely no option but to reaffirm the dancers’ right to earn their livelihood legitimately as assured in Section 19 of the Indian Constitution. However, this should not lead to obscenity or exploitation of vulnerable girls. A middle path should be found to regulate the activities.
Abad Ponda, Noted criminal lawyer
The SC says that the bars should not be obscene and also says that obscenity is very subjective. So, this can be misused by the police, thus leading to an increase in harassment and moral policing.
Mihir Desai, Advocate
The stay on the ban is highly positive. Some of these women will be into obscenity, but that does not mean you paint others with the same brush. As long as it is voluntary, the state has no business stopping dance bars.
YP Singh, Advocate
The problem was never with dance bars The problem was with corruption in the police force because of which, the dance bars degenerated to immoral places and pick-up joints. So, I agree with the employment of women in dance bars with reasonable decency, if their fundamental rights to occupation are not infringed upon.
Moral defeat for BJP-Sena govt, say Opposition leaders
This has something to do with the nightlife proposal in Mumbai. BJP leaders Ashish Shelar and Shaina NC, and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray had a deal with dance bar owners to go mild in this case. - Nawab Malik, NCP chief spokesperson
It is a moral defeat for the BJP-Sena government. Our successive governments tried to maintain the ban by approaching the courts and amending the law. We will support the government if it takes up the matter and files a review petition in the apex court. - Dhananjay Munde (NCP) Opposition leader Legislative Council
The government should promulgate an ordinance banning dance bars. The new law should be without any loopholes. The Congress will support the government. - Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (Congress) Opposition leader Legislative Assembly
March 31, 2005
A calling attention notice by a legislator Vivek Patil prompted RR Patil to announce a ban on dance bars. In July 2005, the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act, 2005, was passed by both Houses unanimously to legally ban dance bars
June 13, 2014
The state passed the Maharashtra Police (second amendment) Bill, which also barred grant of licenses for dance performances.