NEW DELHI -- The Supreme Court today stayed the contentious law which bans dance performances in bars, hotels and restaurants in Maharashtra, and rendered thousands of women unemployed.
Over the past decade, the Maharashtra government, whether under the Congress Party or the Bharatiya Janata Party, has pressed for a ban on dance bars to protect the dignity of women and guard against prostitution. On the contrary, dancers have argued, they will be forced into prostitution if this source of livelihood is snatched away from them.
In 2005, the Maharashtra government forced dance bars in the state to close. In 2013, the Supreme Court backed the Bombay High Court's (2006) decision to quash the ban because it violated the constitutional right to "practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business."
More than 75,000 women are employed in 2,500 dance bars in Maharashtra, which are also a source of jobs for 1.5 lakh people including cooks and waiters.
Last year, state lawmakers unanimously passed a law which made the operation of these bars punishable with up to a three year imprisonment and a fine of up to three lakhs. Then, restaurant owners challenged the constitutional validity of the amendment to the Maharashtra Police Act which puts the ban in place.
A final hearing on the matter is scheduled for November 5.
"Crime reduces at places where dance bar functions because its always crowded," said Manjeet Sethi, former president of the Mumbai Dance Bar Owners Association, ANI reported.
While putting the ban on hold, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant have allowed licensing authorities to regulate indecent dance performances, and the two judges called on the state ensure that the dignity of women is protected.
“However, we have a rider that no performance of dance will be remotely expressive of any kind of obscenity...the licensing authority can regulate such dance performances so that individual dignity of woman performer is not harmed,” they said, PTI reported.
On Thursday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that his government will abide by the Supreme Court decision, but monitor dance bars to prevent obscene performances.
Fadnavis also said that his government still favours a ban instead of regulation, and he will continue to press this demand in the Supreme Court.
Although SC interim order mandates regulation instead of ban on dance bars,Govt still favours ban.We will examine & press our demand in SC.— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) October 15, 2015