Seven years ago when the morally-oriented authorities clamped down dance bars in Mumbai, lives were upended. Livelihoods of entire families, dependent on a bar dancer, were snuffed out. Many dancers ended their lives and many more were sucked into prostitution.
With the Supreme Court lifting the ban, bar owners and other workers are rejoicing -- they are back in business.
Twenty-eight-year-old Tanya, who landed in the city 10 years ago from Kolkata, worked as a bar dancer for three years before the ban. She is thrilled with the court decision.
“My elder brother and father expired and there was no one to look after the family - my mother, younger brother and sister. I came to Mumbai with some of my friends to work and make money. Later I came in touch with some friends who took me to a dance bar, and I started working at one. I was earning well and I continued doing it,” said Tanya, who stays in Mira Road.
Before 2005, she used to earn more than Rs 3,000 in a day but after the ban she had to beg in order to run her family. She was jobless for a few months, which is when she started doing odd jobs like stitching from the confines of her home. But that barely covered the family’s needs.
A few months later, when hotels started orchestra bars, she joined one and is currently working at a Borivli establishment. “Those days were good and I am happy that I will start earning more and will be able to give better life to my family members,” said Tanya, who has studied till Std IV.
Her mother knows how she puts food on the table but her siblings are unaware of what she does. They think their sister works at a regular job.
“Working in an orchestra bar is not an easy job either, as the police keep coming and harassing us every other day. Life is hell, but I have to get by,” she said.
Poonam, 33, who also lost her job after the ban, is happy that bars will be reopened in Mumbai. “After they shut us down, I started waiting on tables but the money I get is peanuts. I am happy that bars will open again. I will be able to give a better life to my son and family members,” said Poonam, who has a 15-year-old boy, who has no idea of his mother’s former or current occupation.
In the months following the proscription, many bar girls left the city and many others took up other jobs, but life was hard without money.
Twenty-two-year-old Rani’s story is heartbreaking. She entered her first dance bar at the age of 14, after her father died. Her two elder sisters decided to get married, marooning her to fend for herself and her mother, who now lives with her in their Mira Road house and worked for around nine months.
“I was young, and I was earning well, but the stars had something else in store. Dance bars were closed down. I used to earn over Rs 2,000 in a day at the bar, now it’s hard to earn even Rs 100 at the orchestra bar I work at,” said Rani.
Rani is young and beautiful. She is eagerly waiting for the day can she start dancing again. “I love dancing and when I get good money through my dance, that’s happiness for me,” she said, adding, “Now these police people trouble us every now and then, we can’t even focus on our job.”
Pravin Agrawal, who manages Ellora Hotel in Borivli, is fighting for the rights of bar girls. He said at last the court understood the dire need of the girls to work at dance bars. “We have been following this case for years, and finally, the court verdict has brought us peace. The girls were unemployed and many of them had even committed suicide.”
This one is done for good
As a counterpoint to all the cheers from the dance girl fraternity, there is Malad resident Rashmi (the name of the 29-year-old former bar dancer has been changed on request). She seized the tough luck and turn of events in 2005 to turn her life around.
Rashmi used to work in a dance bar for around five years, popular back in its day, and after its shutdown, she scoured about for a job but failed. In all the upheaval, she called it quits and decided to start afresh. She says she is a happily married woman now. “I have a two-year-old daughter. My husband knows about my past and was one of my regular customers at the time,” said Rashmi, preferring to keep her true identity to herself. She is not interested in “going back to that dirt”.
“I have put myself through so much pain. Jobless, I roamed around for two years to get a decent job but I was a bar dancer, no one looked at me with respect,” she caught herself at the peak of emotion, adding relived, “ Now, nobody is aware of my identity and I am living my life happily with my daughter and husband.”