The Supreme Court has rightly diluted the illiberal Maharashtra government law that practically precluded the reopening of dance bars shut after 2005. While a Bench headed by Justice A.K. Sikri upheld the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016, it watered down many of its provisions. As such the apex court verdict is a blow to moral policing.
The present rules stipulate that there be a partition between the dancing area and the bar/restaurant area. Further, alcohol could not be served in the dance area. The court has struck these rules down. It has also allowed tips for dancers, though disallowed showering money on them. One wonders what harm showering money on dancers does to the society. The SC has also scrapped, on the grounds of privacy, the rule that CCTV cameras be installed inside.
The authorities, while not outlawing dance bars, had made their existence very difficult, if not downright impossible. For instance, there was a rule that these dance bars could not be within 1 km of an educational institution or a religious place. “This amounts to fulfilling an impossible condition and the effect thereof is that, at no place, in Mumbai, licence would be granted. Therefore, this condition is also held to be arbitrary and unreasonable and is quashed, with liberty to the Maharashtra Govt to prescribe the distance from educational and religious institutions, which is reasonable and workable,” the 100-page order said.
The Dance Bar Girls Association has expectedly welcomed the verdict, but the same could not be said about the Maharashtra government. One would have hoped that the state politicians would get chastened and scale down, if not give up, sanctimoniousness, but that is not to be. State Home Minister Ranjeet Patil brazened it out saying that the ruling “does not reflect the public sentiment in Maharashtra which was against dance bars.”
It is disingenuous on the part of Patil to have said that, because Maharashtrians’ sentiments have seldom been respected by his government—or, for that matter, any other government. Every year, for instance, monsoons cripple Mumbai, the country’s financial and cinema capital.
The political class in the state has not been able to make significant improvement in infrastructure and governance. It is time it remained focused in these areas rather than indulge in making the lives of fun-lovers miserable.