In a strange decision, the government of Maharashtra closed down all dance bars in the state — except Mumbai. Citing reasons for this move, “Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister R R Patil said dance bars, which had flourished in various parts of the state, had adverse effect on the youth, ‘damaging’ the cultural texture of the state” [source: Rediff News]. The reason this news caught my attention was because Panvel, my hometown had seen an extraordinary rise in number of “dance bars”. Basically these bars catered to the needs of hundreds of villages around Panvel. The sudden onrush of activity in form of construction contracts for various development projects had infused obscene amounts of money in the region. The erstwhile lower-income class of Agris (a dominant caste in the region) suddenly found itself rolling in money. After splurging on cars and Rayban goggles, they indulged their philandering proclivities by frequenting these “dance bars”. Supply meets demands, and soon the couple of such bars were joined by dozens of other cheesy-named (see title) bars that were effectively liquor dens. The women that served and danced mostly came from suburbs of Mumbai but that soon changed when local women also wanted a share of the pie; morals be damned.
Of course, not just alcohol was served in these bars; AIDS cases in the region shot up dramatically and if you ever wondered infidelity is a western import, you would think again if you heard about the “extra-curricular” activities that such bars propagated. But every society has to fulfill its vices. Political indifference, however was never more evident when my dad once gently confronted the MLA on this issue. He was amusingly shocked to hear his justification — the women in the region were getting jobs and thus the dance bars were empowering them and making them financially independent. Now that’s like an economic argument but I hadn’t expected from the otherwise conservative MLA. The actual reasons, however were much different as anyone would guess.
Getting back to the latest development that led the government to crackdown on these bars, I wondered who sponsored the legislation. I was surprised (again!) to see the name of our own MLA, Vivek Patil of the Peasant Workers Party as the lead sponsor. It seems that the party has been agitating against the dance bar culture for quite some time. Ah-ha! How things change, or has the cash flow from the bars to politics stopped? Are dancing jobs being outsourced to Biharis and Nepalis, (the two most-exploited demographic group who also drive down the price of labor in India) and the economic argument doesn’t hold anymore? And why was Mumbai spared from cultural depravation? Too late?
On a side note, even such highly moralistic decisions do not fail to provide laughs that I have come to expect from Indian politics:
“Meanwhile, the dance bars in Mumbai have decided to remain closed from April one to protest against the government decision’s. “The dance bars in the city will remain closed to show their solidarity with the bars in rest of the state, which have been ordered to close down,” Bar Association of Mumbai President Manjit Sethi told PTI”
PS. Another thing in the article that made my imagination run wild — “The recent raid on ‘Baywatch‘ dance bar in Khalapur has endorsed that such bars are centres of flesh trade, the members added.” Imagine Pam Anderson and Yasmine Bleeth dancing away to glory on “Main aaye hoon UP Bihar lootne”! Now, that would be worth flinging your hard-earned money away; for the hilarity, not for erotic pleasure.
Update: The Law and Judiciary Department ruled equal status for Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra regards bars, and hence the state government has extended the ban on Mumbai bars as well. Chandni Bar-red!