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Bar girls evicted from their homes

June 11, 2007

A peculiar problem has surfaced in Maharashtra. Bar girls or rather, ex-bar-girls are being driven out of their homes…from an area called Kisan Nagar in Thane. It is the local residents with the help of the local moral police (Shiv Sena) who are doing it. Some girls were even beaten up. Apparently about 2,500 bar girls are being forced to leave their homes. They have been given a deadline of June 11th to leave. That is today. And most girls are quietly leaving.

Actually the girls are not bar-girls anymore, not officially at least. Dance bars were shut down in Maharashtra in 2005. Only dance bars mind you. Dancing girls in the more expensive hotels (3 star and above) were not banned and nor were independent performances. Luckily, the high court overturned the ruling on dance bars last year (they saw the complete lack of logic in banning the poorer girls from performing) but the state government has appealed, and case is pending with the Supreme Court.

In the meantime what are these girls doing for a living? Well, while underground bars do exist and some of the girls have found alternate jobs. But the residents of the area where bar girls reside claim that the girls are prostitutes and pimps and anti-social elements frequent the area. But if this is the case, why can’t the law deal with it?

The question is: Do bar-girls deserve the social ostracization that they are being subjected to? Well, a westerner might wonder what the fuss is all about. The girls don’t do a strip-tease and nor do they do any kind of table dancing. The girls are fully clothed when they dance. In fact, they tend to wear more clothes than girls in music videos! And they are not allowed to solicit customers in the bars. Customers were also banned from touching the girls. Some people believe that the bars were always a front for prostitution…a place where secret deals were made and private meetings arranged. But only a few girls indulged in this, not the majority.

The truth is that girls who work in these bars come from poor families and their clientale is not the wealthy sophisticated lot who frequent the more expensive hotels. The bar girls in fact often support old parents, spouses and children. True, many of them have been exploited by bar-owners as well as their own families…but it is not just in this profession that girls have been put to work while their families enjoy their earnings.

The fact that the girls are poor makes this ban all the more cruel. Its not very surprising that closing down the bars forced some of the girls to turn to prostitution. This has ruined the life of some girls forever.

There were reportedly about 1500 bars in Mumbai and 100,000 bar girls. And from this site I found out that in their hey day bar girls could earn Rs 25.000/- to over Rs 100,000 a month depending on how good they were, but they faced a constant hazard from the bullying of the police and bar-owners who often intimidated them and took away their tips.

Today these girls (whether or not they are in another line of work) face hostility from the residents of their locality. The stigma of being a bar-girl has stuck…thats middle class morality for you. But frankly, I have never heard of even prostitutes in any area being evicted from their homes. Here some of the bar-girls had not just taken houses on rent, they had even bought homes! Yet they are being evicted.

Why did landlords take deposits from them while giving the houses on rent, and why did residents not object when their own neighbors sold the houses? Evicting legal tenants and owners from their houses is inhuman. If they don’t like their bar girl neighbours, why can’t the residents themselves move out? After all, its not a new idea, moving out of a neighborhood because you don’t like it.

But the eviction is happening because the people feel that they are right. The harsh reality of our society today is that women working nights are the target of vicious gossip – bar girls or not.

This hit me just last week when a popular newspaper conducted random interviews of women who worked late – these were not ex-bar girls but girls who worked in call centres, or as nurses, or in airlines…or they were single girls who simply worked late. All of them said that they neighbors looked askance at them, specially if men dropped them home! I was surprised because I have never experienced this problem myself.

When I was a journalist with the Times, there were times when we worked beyond midnight and well, I only agreed to work late if a male colleague could find the time to drop me to my door-step! We lived in Juhu then, and never once did I face any problem with the neighbors. If anything, they respected me. I guess I lived in a decent locality, where everyone respected each other as long as one did not create a nuisance. There was no question of neighbors turning into the moral police. But I guess I was out of touch with the ground reality.

If tongues start wagging if a girl is just dropped home by a male colleague, its really a sad reflection on our society. And if girls who work nights are forced to leave their homes, its shocking.

If our society suspects women in ordinary jobs of being loose, just because they work late, one can imagine the fate of the poor bar-girls!

Yeah, I too am against people creating a nuisance at night or disturbing the neighbors and if this was the case, there are ways to address this problem. And if the cops weren’t doing anything, the outraged residents could have talked to the girls? In any case, I cannot believe that all of these hundreds of girls are prostitutes.

(Photo credits: bbc and asiapacific)

Related Reading: Ban on night shifts for women in Karnataka a retrograde step
No humanity shown towards trafficked victims
A new law to prevent prostitutes from becoming victims of the police and the courts
Sex Tourism growing in India
India doesn’t want to admit that its children go missing!
About 45000 kids go missing in India every year
What is the root cause of child labour?
No long-term rehabilitation for street kids
The abuse of domestics, particularly children

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2007 12:35 pm

    Is there anything constructive that Shiv Sainiks do? They seem to be above the law. What is the good that they do or does the press only highlight the bad things?
    Lots of these out of employment bar girls are spilling into other parts of the country. In UP and Bihar they are being used by the politicians for collecting huge crowds for meetings. One reason given for closing the dance bars was that they led to corruption. I don’t understand if dance bars led to corruption then action should have been taken against the officials involved in corrupt practices. People visiting the dance bars lost nothing. In any case dances performed by the bar girls could not be more vulgar than the ones performed in the name of item numbers in our films.

  2. June 11, 2007 1:04 pm

    Thats a good point Prerna.
    Well as the Shiv Sainiks run the muncipal govt. here I am sure they must be doing something good. Thats their job. But ofcourse there is a lot of criticism abt the way they run the the govt. too.
    however, its their role as the moral brigade which is what gets everyone’s goat. And its always written about. Because they interfere where they have no jurisdiction. This irritates me a great deal too because most of their diktats seem to be anti-women.
    A very major part of the Shiv Sena’s agenda is Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians. And some feel that this is the reason why they banned the bar girls. The majority of bar-girls are from other states, UP, Bihar, Bengal, etc. A large part are from outside the country, like Nepal and Bangla Desh. I didn’t mention this point because I feel that whatever their origin, the girls deserve humane treatment.

  3. Mr. Lonely permalink
    July 8, 2007 4:34 pm

    All the sympathy, moral etc etc which is shown for bar girl is fine, but one must also see the enormous amount of money which these girls have extracted from drunken people when the bars were active. All this money doesn’t grow on trees. All this has defenitely led to increase in crime, thefts cheatings etc.
    definitely, these bar girls (for their selfish need) had indirect influence on lots of societies crimes.

  4. July 8, 2007 6:02 pm

    Mr. Lonely, men are not children that they are being lured to bar-girls. Bar girls may do it for money, but their customers go there for fun.
    Also men and women both turn to crime for various reasons including desire for drugs, alcohol and a good life. If you are saying that people can be lured into crime, sure, but that applies to both men and women. In fact in our society women are far more vulnerable.

  5. December 17, 2007 3:24 pm

    Cinema stars and dancers earn a lot more money than bar dancers and village recording dancers through nude dances. I wonder why don’t police arrest cinema stars and dancers and arrest only bar dancers and village recording dancers! I composed an article about hypocritical policing on porno culture.

  6. santosh pandey permalink
    March 18, 2008 10:53 pm

    lot of people come to mumbai for their bread & butter.

    every bar girls have a tragic story ..

    lord always shows mercy…….

    we also should show mercy to this community.

    can we stop corruption ?

    can we stop politicians by fulfilling their evil ideas ?

    let them earn their bread & butter and serve the family.

    if u can’t change the world don’t finger it for u r personal objectives ..

    i strongly support this people….. & i know whom i am supporting………………

    woh log bure hain lekin unki neeyat to saaf hain !

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