Dance bar is a term used in India to refer to bars in which adult entertainment in the form of dances by relatively well-covered women are performed for male patrons in exchange for cash. Dance bars used to be present only in Maharashtra, but later spread across the country, mainly in cities. Dance bars were banned in the state of Maharashtra, in August 2005, with the passing of the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Act, 2005. Subsequently, the government shut down dance bars. However, many continued to flourish as late as 2011, although in a clandestine way in Mumbai and its outskirts. Mumbai alone had 700 dance bars, at their peak in April 2005 when it was banned, though officially only 307 dance bars existed, the rest were illegal, while the figures for rest of the state was 650 dance bars in total. In all they employed 150,000 people, including 75,000 bar girls. These bars functioned as fronts for prostitution. After the ban was enforced, no rehabilitation program was initiated for the nightclub dancers, known as bar-balas. Many moved to Dubai and other Middle Eastern countries, while others went to New Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad.
The ban was first struck down by the Bombay High Court on 12 April 2006, and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in July 2013.The Hindu reported that the number of women employed in bars in Maharashtra was around 20,000 in September 2013. Most of them were waitresses or singers at orchestra bars.
Mumbai Police carried out a raid on 52 dance bars throughout Mumbai on 24 February 2004, in an overnight operation. This was the first ever large scale raid on dance bars. This was followed by another raid on 27 March 2004. The two raids scared bar owners, who claimed that they paid regular bribes to policemen to keep their business running, and alleged that either the police "want us to hike haftas or they want us to fund election campaigns of certain politicians."
On 25 February 2004, following the raid, the Maharashtra government issued a notification restricting persons below the age of 21 from entering dance bars, discothèques and pubs. Bars violating the law would face fines and possible cancellation of licences. The ban, under the Bombay Prohibition Act, was effective from 1 April 2004.
On 30 March 2005, then Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister RR Patil announced in the Maharashtra State Assembly that dance bars in the state, except those in Mumbai, would be shut with immediate effect. He was replying to complaints from Vivek Patil, and two other MLAs from the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), who complained that dance bars were "corrupting the youth". Patil claimed that "dance and ladies' bars are wreaking havoc in rural Maharashtra" and "corrupting the moral fibre of our youth". He also announced that a committee of key IAS officials would report within three months. Patil also stated that the government would not issue any new licences. Dance bars in Mumbai went on strike to show solidarity.
The Maharashtra State Assembly adopted the Maharashtra Police (Amendment) Bill 2005 amending the Bombay Police Act, 1951, banning "holding of performance or dance of any kind" at "eating house, permit rooms or beer bars" across the state, on 22 July 2005. On 23 June 2005, Maharashtra Governor SM Krishna had sent back the ordinance to ban bars, stating that he saw "no immediate reason" to sign the ordinance, and demanding that the issue be discussed in the State Assembly. The ban was criticized by MP from Mumbai north-west Sunil Dutt who expressed concern over the future of about 75,000 bar girls who would be unemployed as a result of the ban. Dutt emphasised, "We should leave it to the people whether they want to visit a bar or not. We should not decide for them." The ban also opposed by Congress MP Govinda. Bar girls protested the ban, shouting slogans alleging bias and discrimination, and demanding a rehabilitation package. At the time of the ban, there were an estimated 1,400 dance bars in the state (700 in Mumbai, 32 in Raigad district), which employed more than 100,000 bar girls.
Starting 15 August 2005, the ban was implemented across Maharashtra. As a result of the ban, the government lost INR 1-1.2 million per annum in revenue from each licensed dance bars. In Mumbai alone 150,000 people, including 75,000 bar girls went out-of-work. Then Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil had initially stated that bar girls would be "rehabilitated", but he backtracked and later stated that since 75% of the bar girls were from other States and as well as Bangladesh, only the Maharashtrian girls would be rehabilitated. However, he did not clarify what "rehabilitation" entailed. Due a lack of a rehabilitation program, within a few short months hundreds of bar girls (bar-balas) mostly illiterate young women sending income back to their families, were out of work, and were forced to move to Gulf countries and South-East Asian countries.
Some bar girls started dancing at mujras. For example, by November 2005, some 5,000 former bar girls from across Mumbai leased out rooms with the help of brothel madams and brokers in and around Foras Road, near Kamathipura, and started performing improvised versions of the mujra every night. Another hub that crept up during this period was Congress House near Kennedy Bridge, on Grant Road, which has been city's oldest address of mujra performers, which embraced the bar girls' into their folds. Some bar girls are called to dance at private parties, where they often provide sexual favours. Most bar girls are illiterate.
In many cases, girls who could not find other modes of income moved to outright prostitution in Mumbai's red-light districts like Kamathipura. Some even committed suicide, as they did not receive rehabilitation from the state. The dance bars themselves had to attempt to make ends meet by hosting live singing troupes or live bands.
Following the ban, there were sporadic raids on dance bars, with arrests being made. The largest raid on dance bars since the 15 August ban, occurred on 3 March 2006, when Mumbai Police raided Commando Bar in Chembur and Natraj Bar in Tilak Nagar, and arrested 53 dancers and 89 men, including patrons and staffers on charges under the IPC sections for obscenity. In the following years, most known dance bar were either demolished or shut down by municipal corporation, but they moved into the outskirts of the main Mumbai city, into areas like Kashimira on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway 8, Vasai and Mira Road in Mira-Bhayandar suburb, where numerous illegal dance bars mostly in residential areas also serve as pick-up joints, were demolished in an extensive drive in late 2010, and numerous arrests were made including bar girls, customers and employees of bars.
On 12 April 2006, the Bombay High Court struck down the amendment as "unconstitutional". The ban had been challenged by nine petitioners including the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (AHAR), Dance Bar Owners' Association (DBOA), and Bharatiya Bar Girls' Union (BBGU) Dance bars were not allowed to re-open immediately, as the state government was allowed an eight-week appeal period.
RR Patil told the Maharashtra State Assembly on 13 April 2006 that the government would appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court admitted the state government's petition challenging High Court verdict on 10 May 2006, and also continued the stay on grant of licences permitting dance bars. The Supreme Court upheld the Bombay High Court verdict on 16 July 2013. The Court vacated its stay order on implementation of the High Court judgement and permitted bars to reapply for their licences and reopen.
Bar owners began applying to the police for the restoration of licences required to run dance bars from 20 July 2013. As of 5 September 2013, at least 200 bar owners had applied for licences to operate dance bars. However, the licences were not processed by the police, which prompted the owners of 200 bars to send a reminder notice to the police department on 14 August 2013, asking why they were being denied the licences even after the Supreme Court had lifted the ban. Dance bar owners have also threatened to file a contempt petition in the Supreme Court. The deputy commissioner of police (headquarters-I) stated that they were awaiting "suitable guidance from the state regarding the SC order" and assured that they would "process the applications expeditiously" upon receiving the instructions.
In October 2015, the Supreme Court declared the 2014 law as unconstitutional, allowing Mumbai dance bars to reopen.
Patil stated that his department received a draft on 5 September 2013, prepared by the advocate general, to ensure that dance bars are banned in the state. On 2 June 2014, the Maharashtra State Cabinet decided against an ordinance to ban dance bars. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan informed his cabinet that they could not overrule the Supreme Court's judgment. He instead proposed a regulatory authority to monitor and control dance bars. However, the plan was shelved after members of the cabinet told Chavan that it would be a "futile exercise". DNA quoted a senior minister who attended the cabinet meeting as stating that dance bars could re-open after obtaining mandatory approvals. He also stated that they "should ensure there is no vulgarity on the part of the dancers", saying, "Customers will not be allowed to throw money at bar girls. Also, these girls should not be exploited". However, on 13 June 2014, the cabinet passed an ordinance banning dance bars. On the same day, a Bill to amend the Maharashtra Police (Second Amendment) Bill, 2014 to abrogate the Supreme Court ruling was introduced and passed in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. The Bill re-introduced the previous ban on dance bar and extended the ban on dance performances to three-star and five-star hotels, as well as cultural events and festivals held in luxury hotels. The Bill was tabled in the Legislative Council on the same day. The law banning dance bars was enacted in June 2014.
In September 2014 the Maharashtra state-appointed committee headed by former Judge Chandrashekhar Shankar Dharmadhikari recommended a "complete ban on bar girls in hotels and restaurants" as well as "curbs on social media" as these have a "corrupting influence", in order to reduce crimes against women. The committee recommended an "improved legislation" more than an ordinance.
Further in September 2014, based on a petition filed by the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (Ahar) challenging the 2014 ban, the Supreme Court issued a notice directing the Maharashtra Government to reply to the petition. The petition stated that the State Government had disregarded the Supreme Court ruling, and included some provisions which the Court had previously held to be unconstitutional. The Association also alleged that the amendment was the result of "personal vendetta" and introduced with "great haste as some politicians who made it a prestige issue and want to defeat the SC judgment, also want to shield themselves from willful contempt of court". However, the Government failed to reply to the petition. On 6 February 2015, the Supreme Court issued a second notice to the Maharashtra government seeking its reply.
In October 2015, the Supreme Court stayed the 2014 law also as unconstitutional, similar to the 2005 ban. The court ruled that dance bars could now reopen, but said that licensing authorities had the power to regulate "indecent" dance performances. A final hearing is set for 5 November.
Bar dancing in India, markedly differs from erotic dancing and nightclub dance in the Western world and some parts of the Eastern world. In a way, it is more similar to bellydancing performed as entertainment. The dancers, known as bar girls, remain significantly clothed throughout the performance, showing at most some midriff, part of the back, and bare arms. Therefore, the erotic aspect of bar dancing is mostly achieved through suggestion. In Maharashtra, bar dancer attire is often ethnic Indian (sari or lehenga-choli), whereas in some other places, such as Bangalore, it may include Western garb. The bar dances are often compared to mujras, wherein women would dance to live classical Indian music, traditionally performed by tawaif (courtesans) during the Mughal era.
Bar girls dance to Bollywood and Indipop numbers on a colourfully lit dance floor, in the central focus of a dance bar's seating arrangement. Patrons sit in chairs lined up against the walls of the room. The dancing is minimalist kind and features no pelvic thrusting and bosom heaving seen typical Bollywood dance, nor any belly-dancing or suggestive gyrations. Most of the time, bar girls reservedly sway to music, in a movement designed for the conservation of energy, until they find a patron whose attention they wish to attract, or are called upon by a patron. They then dance in front of the patron, making fleeting eye contact, pointing, gesturing, or generally making their targeted patron "feel special". No bodily contact between the two is allowed, and the bar dancers often stay within the confines of the dance floor. Male waiters hover over patrons and dancers who get too close to each other, both to oversee transactions between the two as well as ostensibly to prevent sex-for-money deals being made. Patrons sometimes shower bar girls with currency notes, which generally results in more animated dancing.
The patron showers his favoured dancer with currency notes. He does this either by handing over nominal denominations of cash (10 or 20 rupee notes), or through an act known as "scratching", where he holds a wad of currency notes above his dancer and rubs notes off the wad down upon the dancer. In some cases, he would even garland the dancer with rupees. Many bar dancers are able to make hundreds of rupees a night in this way, thanks to generous, well-off, and possibly inebriated patrons. At the end of the day, each girl's earnings are counted and split in some predetermined proportion between the dance bar and the girls. The dance bars also make money through the sale of alcohol and snacks. Most women earned up to (US$160) a month, this attracted women from all over India and even as far away as Nepal and Bangladesh, especially as dance bars was considered by them as a safer way to make a living, than working in the Mumbai's red-light district.
Income depended on the popularity and status of the bar girl. The Hindustan Times reported that the less popular girls were given 60% of the amount showered on them. It also stated that popular girls received a monthly salary of INR 100,000-300,000, while the bar owner kept all the money showered on them.
Dance bars closed at midnight, but in 2000, the government changed the rule to permit them to stay open until 1:30 am. However, this was changed to 12:30am, following the rape of a minor at Marine Drive, Mumbai in 2005, although the rape was committed by a police constable inside a police chowki (station).
Dance bars exist in other parts of India, although they are illegal.
On 4 June 2006, the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police busted the El Dorado dance bar in Hotel Rajdoot on Mathura Road, and arrested 13 dance bar girls and one of the hotel owners on charges ranging from obscenity to immoral trafficking and abetment. The girls were aged between 20 and 30 and came from lower-middle-class families. Four of them were from Delhi, two each were from Bihar, Noida and Punjab and one each from Kolkata and Allahabad. The girls had previously been employed in Mumbai dance bars, but shifted to Delhi after those establishments were banned.