ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Pyrrhic Victory

Mumbai's bar dancers will only get partial relief from the Supreme Court's recent ruling.

The Supreme Court’s 16 July ruling upholding the 2006 judgment of the Bombay High Court that upturned the Maharashtra government’s ban on dance bars is, at best, a pyrrhic “victory” for the women who danced in these bars. In 2005, when the ban was instituted, an estimated 75,000 women lost their main source of livelihood. Hence, it is presumed that following the Supreme Court’s ruling these women will once again have recourse to a livelihood option. However, a closer reading of the judgment coupled with the competitive “moral” politics of Maharashtra suggests that the “victory” is only partial.

The Bombay High Court struck down the Maharashtra government’s amendment to the Bombay Police Act, 1951 banning all forms of dancing in bars that were lower than three star status, to be against the constitutional provisions in Articles 14 and 19(1)(g). By amending Section 33 (A) of the law, the Maharashtra government had created two categories for the same activities. Women could not perform in licensed bars outside hotels that were three star or higher, or in private clubs. The justification for the ban was that these performances resulted in depravity, lowering public morality and exploited the women. Yet, no such value judgment was made on the same or similar performances in the higher class establishments. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Supreme Court has confirmed what the Bombay High Court concluded, namely, that such a law is discriminatory and goes against the Constitution.

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