Bar girls evicted from their homes
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)
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