The price Mumbai paid in 8 years since the dance bar

Mumbai bar dancersStaff of a former ladies dance bar 'Falcon' at Mumbai's Grant road performing pooja after the Supreme Court verdict to reopen dance bars in Maharashtra. (Express photo)
A band of whitener began to conceal the word "dance" on the licences of 1,250 dance bars across Mumbai after they were banned on August 14, 2005. Many of them have since shut down. A lot else has changed between then and today, when the Supreme Court upheld a high court order striking down the ban.

Some 50,000 to 60,000 women lost their jobs, as did 40,000 men. Some of the women killed themselves, and 40 per cent were pushed into prostitution, says Anil Gaikwad, legal adviser for Indian Hotel and Restaurant Owners' Association, citing a government study. Bars converted into restaurants or orchestra bars, or shut down. And the government lost revenue.

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"For eight years in a row, the state lost an annual Rs 3,000 crore that it had earned from dance bars," says Gaikwad. Praveen Agarwal, general secretary, Bar Owners' Association, says, "The excise department wrote to the home department on the revenue loss. Nobody can deny that the state stands to gain and so does the industry as the footfall in a dance bar converts into increased consumption and sale of liquor." An official with the excise department says Rs 9,300 crore was collected from the state in 2012.

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Besides excise from liquor sales, each dance bar paid an excise fee of Rs 3,65,000 for a 12-month term and Rs 1,80,000 a year for a performance licence, which allowed it to feature women dancers and and stay open till midnight. The government issued in the early 2000s a resolution extending the deadline to 1.30 am. But when a minor was raped at Marine Drive in 2005, the official deadline for Mumbai's nightlife was pulled back to 12.30 am.

Police records since the ban show a number of former bar dancers were found hanging, or having consumed poison. Some migrated to other states, and a few abroad. And in 2012 alone, Vasant Dhoble's moral police "rescued" 1,300 women from spas, massage parlours, most of them former bar dancers.

Gaikwad says most of the women were illiterate and struggled to find other jobs as they carried the stigma of having been bar dancers. He says the government did nothing to rehabilitate them as it had promised. "Some of them had to stop their children's education. Some went to Dubai or Delhi. Others started working as extras in films," Gaikwad says.

"I was dancing that night in 2005 when someone said the restaurant had to shut. I had to leave within minutes," says Dolly Singh, 30, of Kanpur. Singh, who has young children to support, today shares a room with three other former dance bar employees. "The court ruling is really great news. Once licences are issued, I will finally be able to dance and earn again."

Many bar owners had to sell their property and ornaments. "About 20-30 per cent converted their bars to family restaurants. But the competition is very tough and a number of them were forced to shut down," says Gaikwad.

"Some others converted to orchestra bars. Only four performers were permitted at a time. So bar owners also had to distribute weekly performance slots among the singers. This reduced the women's income to Rs 500-600 a week."

Dance bars were also seen as a tourism feature, a highlight of Mumbai's nightlife. "The state got revenue from tourists, some from other states and mostly from the Middle East, who would splurge," says Arvind Shetty, president, Association of Hotels and Restaurants.

"The livelihood of so many people was connected to dance bars," says Praveen Agarwal. He cites a small industry of tailors that grew on the fringes of dance bars. "All wore Indian ghagras and these were stitched to perfection. These tailors evolved a parallel fashion world that got killed. The other economies, of beauty parlours and taxi drivers, were all killed."

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