Bar bar dekho

Sep 04, 2011, 03:01 IST | Paromita Vohra

Just a teeny news report in the corner of the paper: government plans special training for bar girls. A headline teasingly ambiguous as a good dance move

Just a teeny news report in the corner of the paper: Government plans special training for bar girls. A headline teasingly ambiguous as a good dance move.

Fantasy being a fast mover, in that one minute, I instantly imagined a jhatka-matka academy.
The next minute, my fantasy police side thought, well, maybe it's self-defence training, for women in night-time professions.

Then... well, never mind my fantasies, let's focus instead on the brahminical fantasies of those who would set the world right.

The Principal Secretary, Child and Women Welfare, was quoted as saying, bar girls would be trained in tailoring and catering so as to provide alternative employment and help "wean them off their trade".

Tailoring is a favourite social upliftment profession, when it comes to 'rehabilitating' women- abandoned, recovered, fallen or badly off.
I've often wondered on what basis. Has there been some market study, which proves that this is an optimal choice? By the way, ever seen a woman working in a tailor's shop?

It's six years since the Maharashtra government ordered a ban on dance bars, forcing 75,000 women into unemployment, sex work and poverty purportedly to save society from moral turpitude and women from degradation. Had they asked the women if they felt degraded?

Illustration/ Jishu Dev Malakar

And if so, what precisely caused this feeling of degradation, and was shutting down the profession the appropriate solution? Would the women have preferred a right to unionise, an enforcement of standard wages, better working conditions, instead?

But the ban, like this solution, is merely a moral fantasy something which has no connection to the real lives of people, but in which you appear as a self-righteous, morally indignant guardian of right, glowing with nobility as you "uplift" others.
To show you as risen, they must appear in your story as fallen. A bar dancer is a fallen woman, the seamstress is not, in some views.

Both remain poor and disempowered, but so what, because after all, why should a woman need to eat if she has her honour, your honour? You break the world down into simplistic good and bad, it becomes so easy to change.

By that logic, why doesn't the government create a silai-bunai workshop for Katrina Kaif, Sonakshi Sinha and Malaika Arora to wean them off their trade, uplift them from degradation?
If they did, would we let them? Or would you stand for the right of these women to a profession of their choice and to be treated fairly within it?

Of course, the rise of the heroine as item song dancer and the decline of the bar dancer are un-connected. Maybe. Given its moralistic basis, the High Court naturally set aside the State order on dance bars. The Supreme Court will hear the matter on September 8.

But even if the Supreme Court sets aside the order and dance bars re-open, what difference will that make to those 75,000 women who were bar dancers six years ago? It's too late for them.
Bar dancing is not an organised profession, and like the female actors, bar dancers have a short working cycle. Those who worked as bar dancers in 2005 have been wiped out in so many ways livelihoods, families, health, well-being.
How is the government even going to locate these women to enroll them in that magical tailoring class? But that doesn't matter, I guess. The real purpose to emanate nobility will have been served.

Nevertheless, should someone go looking for those erstwhile dancers, perhaps the moral high ground might run into some self-doubt. Never too late for that.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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