Barring a Few

The ban imposed by the state government on bar dancing in the night clubs of Maharashtra has been withheld by the Supreme Court. According to the state administration, bar dancing is primarily responsible for the rising level of anti-social activities, prostitution and women trafficking in the state of Maharashtra; and it is detrimental to the progress of social morality as a whole. All the political parties in the state- from the ruling coalition of NCP and the Congress to the opposition BJP and Shiv Sena– unanimously supported this view. The apex court, however, has freed our politicians from the responsibility of upholding the social morality. It has reminded that apart from putting a stop to moral decaying of a society, there are lots of things to do for a government.

The ruling by the apex court can provide us with rewarding insights about the equations of class-relations in the 21st century India. In Maharashtra, singing and dancing to Bollywood and other tunes are not prohibited in the corridors of starred and high-end pubs and restaurants. The Supreme Court has rightly put forth its argument that the standard of social morality should not be compromised in favour of a particular socio-economic class. If bar dancing is harmful for the social health, it should be banned irrespective of the place it is being performed in. Targeting the gatherings of the comparatively lagged behind socio-economic and socio-cultural classes points to the middle-class colonized perceptions of the political class in India today.

Their response to the apex court ruling is even more alarming. The state government has decided on appealing to a higher bench of the Supreme Court. The political parties of the state are thinking of framing a stricter legislation in this regard. High-end pubs and starred bars and restaurants are allowed a free run even after this spate of controversy.

Let us look at the statistics. After the crackdown came upon bar-dancing in 2005, nearly 75 thousands professional dancers became jobless overnight. A number of surveys by the NGOs and women groups reveal that most of these professional bar-dancers were forced to join prostitution and other related professions. Number of suicides, too, is not ignorable. Nearly 2500 nightclubs and bars were closed down and the employees of these centres of ‘morally decaying’ entertainment were forced to be associated with the underworld. Engineering a design to denigrate so many people in the name of uplifting social morality is the articulated handiwork of the politicians of Maharashtra.

So overpowering is this urge of social reformation that the so-called secular Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Powar and the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena have broken a common ground in this issue. The political culture of the state is otherwise very divisive and on the issues of social justice and development, these political parties have conflicting perspectives. Back in time, the Marathi society has been a witness to a number of progressive social revolutions; it has now, not unlike the rest of India, become a battleground to gain political brownie points.

In the name of social morality, looting the freedom of the individual and right to a job and affordable entertainment is not at par with democratic multiplicity. The Supreme Court judgement is an oasis in the political arid land of India. But one can press the panic button as the political and the civil society of this land of diverse cultures are not vocal about the hollowness of the political class in this issue.


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