Euphoria over lifting of ban on them apart, their untold story is one of human trafficking and abject poverty

Bar Owners And Touts Exploit Bar DancersImage source: Screenshot; YouTube/sarvajanik ekta vikas aagman
Blog Friday, October 16, 2015 - 18:28

While the scintillating steps and movements of bar dancers in the splendid colours their clothes, make-up and jewellery - as is being shown shown in televisions loops – may seem alluring, the truth about their lives is dismal. It will make you wonder why many are going ecstatic over the interim Supreme Court order to lift the ban on this activity in Maharashtra.

The brazen culture of bar dancers which began in Maharashtra in early 2000 spread like wildfire with hundreds of night clubs opening in Mumbai and along the corridor of Pune and Mumbai. By the time, the state government banned bar dancers in such clubs, the number of women working as bar dancers and waitresses was a whopping 70,000. Social activists and some newspapers campaigned for the cause of re-opening them, as the women had lost their livelihoods. The state government assured rehabilitation but nothing came of it. Undoubtedly, most of these women, who were tainted with a prostitute-like image in the society, could not go back to their homes and due to lack of any other skills to earn a livelihood faced a hellish situation.

However, the answer for this sad state of affairs is not lifting of bar dancers, if one goes by the genesis of their professions, which was mostly forced upon them and they were exploited sexually and economically. While the Constitution of India gives each individual the Right to Livelihood, it also gives him or her the Right to Dignity, which is missing in this case.

PRAYAS, a field action project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai conducted a `Study of the socio-economic situation and rehabilitation needs of women in dance bars’ in 2005, immediately after the ban.

Excerpts from the PRAYAS Report highlights the indignity meted out to the bar dancers, almost without exception:

HOODWINKED

Quotes of bar dancers, interviewed for the study:

"I was brought to Mumbai a year back and made to forcibly work in the bars. In the beginning, for a month, I attempted to run away but all efforts failed in this regard. Therefore, I am forced to live here.
"I was sold by my relative to a dalal for Rs.20, 000. I have to send money regularly from the earnings of working in the bar.’’
"I was deceived by my village and brought to Mumbai. I do not know the local language of Mumbai. I wish to go back to my village, bure there is no way out."

* Before coming to work in the dance bars, 96% of the women either in their village or in their present place of residence were doing some work like farming, zari work, domestic work, rolling beedis etc. 90% of women had family responsibilities and needed sustenance.

* Majority of the women informed that they had not come into this sector on their own. Before coming to Mumbai, they were told or given an impression by "middlemen" that they would get better paid jobs in Mumbai. They came to Mumbai due to this trust in these middle men.

* The average age was between 18 to 30 years and 50% of them were illiterate. 68% were married. Families of 47% did not know that they were working in bars.

Report says there were elements of human trafficking:

  • "…elements of human trafficking are present in the process of entry into this sector. In our opinion, it fits into the definition of human trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime 2000. The Protocol defines trafficking as "…the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, or abduction, or fraud or deception, or abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." The entry process also amounts to a violation of Article 23 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits traffic in human beings and beggar and other forms of forced labour.
  • 57% of the women worked as dancers while 26% worked as waiters. "The type of work done by women who work as waiters is to serve liquor to the customer and offer to sit beside him if he wishes so…but they have to sometimes face and bear the mental stress of indecent advances and uncouth behaviour of the customers."
  • "The process of entry seems to follow a pattern. The woman is told that the money given by her family when she was brought to Mumbai is like a loan. Until she repays this money, the woman has to abide by what the middleman says/wants. Such women do not have the freedom of selecting a bar of their choice. During this study, it was also found that there have been cases of minor girls being locked up in rooms."


Inhuman hours of work and exploitation

  • The work timings in the bar started from evening till early hours of the morning, as late as 2 am. At time, it continued until dawn." After that, they had to go home on their own and did not feel safe.
  • The women were not paid salaries but were dependent on tips given by customers in the bar which varied from day to day and from one woman to another. The money was often shared with the bar owner as per a fixed ratio ranging from 30% to 60%. In some places, they needed to pay a specific fee to the bar owner for being allowed to dance in the bar. The daily amount earned varied between Rs.50 to Rs.500.
  • From this amount, they had to bear their expenses on house rent, food, make-up, dress, travel, commissions to be given to the middlemen and bar owners. Women had to also face penal action or arrest by the police from time to time and sometimes pay them bribes to avoid such action.

Some of the recommendations of the PRAYAS Report:

  • Criminal action and proceedings under the existing legal framework (ITPA, JJ Act and other special and local laws) should be initiated and carried out in a systematic manner against these middlemen to stop the exploitation of women
  • Lack of safe shelter options could lead to physical, sexual or emotional exploitation of women in marginalised or vulnerable situations. The State should make necessary arrangements for the creation of temporary and safe shelters…this recommendation already finds mention in the State Policy for women, 2000 for the category of women in distress situations
  • Every woman found in such premises during raids conducted by the police should be viewed as a victim, with empathy and offered psycho-social and legal counselling and immediate temporary shelter and social support
  • To address the psycho-social and economic needs of women found in dance bars
  • In keeping with the concept of Welfare State, the State should link these women with existing government schemes for women and weaker sections


 

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