In the Name of Morality: The Unconstitutionality of the State Ban on Dance Bars

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.

A call attention motion on dance bars in the Maharashtra legislative assembly on 31 March 2005 culminated with a ban on dance bars all over Maharashtra on 15 August 2005. Declaring the ban “unconstitutional,” the Bombay High Court reversed the ban when the bar owners’ associations and the bar girls’ unions went to court against the ban. However, the state moved the Supreme Court, which then ordered for the ban on renewal of licences for dance bars to continue until further notice. The ban rendered over 75,000 girls  jobless, previously employed as bar dancers.

Maya Pandit wrote an article, Gendered Subaltern Sexuality and the Statein August 2013 on the controversy over the dance bar girls. In her expansive article, Pandit identifies the upper-caste/class morality as the cornerstone of the nation. The socially deprived and gendered subalterns are perceived as a threat to the fixed identity carved out of the patriarchal Hindu upper-caste/class family norms. She says, “Dancing gets equated with sex work and the girls’ voices of protest are silenced.”

In response, Sameena Dalwai writes, “It is not the threat of ‘subaltern female sexuality’ as Pandit proposes, that the Maharashtra government responded to. It is the occupational and class mobility” in her article Caste and the Bar Dancer.” Dalwai recognises the dance bar as a site of opportunity.  The accusations of obscenity and easy money for bar girls wove a harsh public opinion towards the bar girls as they had overstepped their boundaries and were earning more money, power and status than their caste positionality allowed them. The state was called upon to protect Maharashtrian/Indian culture from the dangerous "lure" of the bar girls. Dalmia identifies "caste governance" by the Maharashtra state government as the reason behind the legal ban on dance bars.

On 30 March 2005, the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, R R Patil, unanimously supported by the cabinet, stated in the assembly that dance bars were “corrupting the moral fibre of our youth and culture,” and therefore had to be closed down. The government completely overlooked the vulnerabilities of dance bar girls, who were left unemployed and merely seen as symbols of obscenity.     Nalini Rajan, writes on the issue of the rehabilitation of the dance girls in her article Dance Bar Girls and the Feminist's Dilemmapublished in February 2007, and concludes that the option of the rehabilitation of the dance bar girls must be considered for no other reason but the understanding that exploitation of the dance bar girls can occur even in the absence of unfair wages and physical violence, refuting the Maharashtra state government’s depiction of the dance bar as a pornographic site of vice and corruption. Nalini Rajan looks at the space of the dance bar through the lens of those who look for newer, less fettered forms of sexual expression, those who control it, those who consume it, those who are used in it and those who fight against it.

A few other articles related to this discussion:

  1. Unacceptable Ban, Editorial, 2005
  2. Bar Dancers, Morality and the Indian Law, Sonal Makhija, 2010
  3. Feminist Contributions from the Margins:Shifting Conceptions of Work and Performance of the Bar Dancers of Mumbai, Forum against the Oppression of Women, 2010
  4. A Pyrrhic Victory, Editorial , 2013
  5. Colonial Hangover of the Moral Police, Editorial, 2016
  6. Misogyny and Bar Ban, Pratiksha Baxi, 2021

Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Sexuality and the State”


Curated by akankshya []

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