New Law in Mumbai Negatively Impacts Dancers

Dancers in Mumbai are apprehensive about new laws that passed on the 13th of April 2016. The new laws have stringent conditions that limit dancers’ ability to earn a decent wage. The new laws do not address many of the concerns that Bar Dancers have raised.

Bar Dancers were not consulted or listened to says Varsha Kale, honorary president of the bar girls’ union in Mumbai, India. The bar girls union has been fighting the ban in the courts but say they have been treated like children and ignored.

The new laws dictate a number of restrictions. These restrictions include:

  • 3 feet high railing separating the dance floor from the seating area;
  • At least 5 feet between the railing and the customers;
  • No more than 4 performers to take to the stage at any time.

The Indian Express News reported that as of the 14th of May, only 3 bars have been issued licenses allowing them to open. They had to meet all of the requirements of the new laws.

One former bar dancer, quoted in a Hindustani Times article explained, “the rules just show that the government has no understanding of our problems and issues. Rather than throttling us like this, why don’t they just say it: they won’t allow our bars to function.”

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis admitted in March that the state’s intention in passing the new law was to ensure that dance bars do not survive.

The new laws also state that dancers must receive a fixed salary and will not be able to directly receive tips. Instead, tips will need to be added to the customer’s bill. This is a step backwards for dancers, who fought hard to end fixed salaries nearly 20 years ago.

In 1997 Bar Dancers won the fight against fixed salaries. “We realised that customers were spending many times our monthly wages on us in a single night, all of which went to the owner. We demanded a share of these tips, and the arrangement still stands in the orchestra bars,” says Jonelle, a 31-year-old dancer-turned-singer at a Koparkhairane bar.

Jonelle, Sonia and Priyanka, all former or current bar dancers quoted in Hindustani times, were fearful of the new laws. Jonelle said that of all the new laws, the most amusing rule was the one stipulating that a woman’s consent must be obtained in writing by the bar before they work after 9.30 p.m.

Sonia, spoke of her fear that police harassment would intensify. “They [police] come in every few weeks to check for drugs or signs of prostitution. They round us up, threaten our manager, say they’ll arrest the customers,” she said. She also expressed concern about her wages being affected by not getting to keep tips.  “With a fixed salary, we’ll be dancing all night and still unable to sustain ourselves.”

“We need to earn our livelihoods through this profession,” explained Priyanka, “The government must understand this simple fact and let us be.”

It is not only the bar dancers that have been ignored by lawmakers. The laws also ignore key recommendations made in a study published in 2006 conducted by Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University along with the Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW). Their key recommendations to the government included fix norms for minimum wage, improve sanitation in their workplaces, make sure dancers have transport home after their shifts.

Sujata Gothoskar, a researcher with FAOW who was part of the study explained that the new rules do not address any of these recommendations.

Gothoskar made her disappointment clear, stating, “the government must stop treating these women like infants while simultaneously showing complete disregard for the real issues they face.”

The Supreme Court will hear bar owners’ plea on the 7th of July 2016.