I appealed to the collective conscience of the nation to address the issue of declining moral standard, particularly of the youth, in the context of mushrooming Dance Bars in and around Mumbai where Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB), drug peddling and criminal deals were being executed by heartless mercenaries and the mafia. Maharashtra Government must not feel disheartened by the April 12 judgment of the Bombay High Court quashing the Bombay Police (Amendment) Act, 2005, on technical and not substantive grounds, thereby lifting the ban on dance bars.
As for substantive grounds for the ban, the high Court held that such ban did not violate Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 or the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Justice F.I. Rebello and Justice Roshan Dalvi quashed the Police (Amendment) Act only on the ground that it discriminated. To be precise, section 33B of the Act exempted dance performances in a drama theatre, cinema theatre, auditorium, sport club or a gymkhana, or a ?three starred and above hotel? or any other establishment specially permitted to host dance performance for the purpose of tourism or cultural activities. This discrimination was found unacceptable by the judges as there was ?no nexus between this classification and object of the Act? i.e. ?to prevent dances which are obscene, vulgar or immoral and hence derogatory to dignity of the women?. Maharashtra Government in its appeal to the Supreme Court will surely address the above ground of discrimination.
It is, however, nobody'scase that all types of dances are vulgar and, therefore, ought to be banned without discrimination. There are classical and modern dances conforming to aesthetic value as also dances that do not fall within the ambit of SOB. Thus a distinction ought to be made between SOB and performances not sexually oriented.
Even the US laws which are far more liberal in regard to SOB, in pursuance of the First Amendment of its Constitution, provides far time regulation, place regulation and also manner regulation. As for example, the State of Delaware required all SOBs to be closed from 10 p.m to 10 a.m, Monday through Saturday and all Sunday and the court upheld the law as it was content neutral and designed to prevent negative secondary effects. The US Supreme Court has ruled that even ?adult bookstores? can be closed if they are proved to be a ?public nuisance? being essentially houses of prostitution and meeting places for public sexual contact.
Apart from the plea of discrimination, the only other pressing arguments of dance bar owners for lifting the ban were the denial of the Constitutional rights under Articles 19 and 21, and the pecuniary losses and unemployment of about 75,000 bar girls who may now be forced into prostitution to earn their livelihood. As for constitutional rights, the Constitution subordinates individual rights to collective social and national interest. As for pecuniary loss, the cap surely fitted the bar owners whose earning of billions of rupees from dance bars was surely not comparable with the earning of pittance by exploited bar girls. As regards the plea of unemployment and the need for rehabilitation of the bar girls, it is incorrect to expect that the responsibility lies with the Government. Maharashtra Government may, however, extend all necessary help to reliable NGOs to ensure that those hapless girls, treated disrespectfully as sex commodities, are rescued from the clutches of mercenaries and rehabilitated in respectable profession to earn their livelihood.
On the other hand, the reasons in favour of the ban, which I find substantive and convincing from my personal study covering several dance bars, are as follows.
First, the vast majority of dance-damsels were kidnapped, purchased or recruited for SOB by heartless mercenaries, often masquerading as philanthropists. In reality, bar dancers were no better than prostitutes and not even one percent of bar dancers had joined this profession of their own volition.
Second, those dance bars, numbering about 2,500 were mostly dens as also contact points of criminals and drug peddlers.
Third, majority of visitors to those dance bars were youth, employed variously from truck drivers to software engineers, as also college and school students of impressionable age, who got culturally transformed into treating women as sex objects.
Fourth, a sizeable number of girls were from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal who had neither the education nor means to travel all the way to Mumbai in search of a job. Apparently, those hapless girls were kidnapped, abducted or purchased.
Fifth, investment in dance bars could be tracked to mafia if properly investigated, and the huge income generated everyday from those bars was mostly, if not entirely, black.
Last and most importantly, unrestrained sex extravaganza and drug pushing in those dance bars rendered those places extremely vulnerable to HIV and AIDS proliferation. It is estimated that about 70 per cent of sex workers in Mumbai are HIV positive and according to the WHO warning, death from AIDs will multiply in India in near future if corrective steps are not immediately taken.
The Bombay High Court judgment has thrown back the poser to the nation once again. Should we teach our children to reject the tradition of treating women with respect and not as sex-objects? Should we, in the name of individual democratic rights, knowingly endanger the nation'shealth and future by exposing our youth to the risk of AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases as also psycho-social perversion? In the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna described unrestrained passion for pleasure and wealth as demonic vices that led men to destruction and spiritual degeneration (verse 12, chapter 16). Should we shun this tradition altogether, getting influenced by crocodile tears of a few mercenaries who are earning billions from SOB by ruining the lives of about 75,000 girls? The nation looks to the Supreme Court for an answer.