Dance Bars of Mumbai
Genesis of the Dance Bars
Mumbai is India's most modern city teeming with millions. It is also the commercial capital of India and headquarters of 65% of the corporate world. Mumbai also has a vigorous nightlife and foremost among them is the dance bars.
The Dance bars equivalent in the west are the cabaret joints, but these dance bars are different and concentrate more on Indian dance and the girls wear mostly the sari. Nudity per se is not there, though suggestive and titillating actions may take place.
From ancient times when Kings and Nawab ruled the roost, the courtesan dancers were the spice of life. At many places, organized dances took place by professional dancers called Nautch girls. Most of these Nautch girls followed a hereditary profession and most often a girl inducted as a Nautch girl ended her life as a Nautch girl. Nautch girls had their own world and often received costly and valuable gifts from the Nawab and Maharajahs. The profession of the Nautch girl was sustained by Indian nobility, who looked up to it as an avenue for entertainment and relaxation.
The name "nautch" derives from the Prakrit Natcha, meaning “dance,” but the girls had a reputation for connecting sex with their music and dance. Most of them were trained to dance as children; some were slaves, others had been sold by their parents.
It will be wrong however to think of nautch girls only as a source of entertainment. Many nautch girls were not merely women of pleasure but accomplished and refined people with dance and poetry in their blood.
In Mumbai, these dance bars that came up after Independence really filled the void of the Nautch girls.
Mumbai Dance Bars
The dance bars now became a central part of Mumbai’s entertainment world. The dancers danced and patrols like the old days showered notes of money on them. Many patrons showered thousands of rupees on the girls who then danced with greater gusto. Unfortunately, the artistic aspects of dance in many cases were forgotten as the girls to make quick money acquiesced in the flesh trade. This grew to endemic proportion and young college going men became frequent visitors to these bars.
The dance bars also earned money and many persons invested money in dance bars. One retired Commissioner of Police also opened at least 2 dance bars. He thought it a good way to earn money quickly.As the bars also served liquor, this led to a heady concoction of women and wine and the results were in many cases a fillip to the flesh trade. The girls also made money and it was not uncommon for patrons to shower thousands of rupees on the girls when they danced. This was a place loved by many Americans, for who this was a novelty.
The police named their own pile of money and overall the flesh trade became central to the dance bars. The government received representation from many parents whose sons squandered time and money on the girls in these bars. Accordingly, in a swift surgical move, the dance bars were banned in 2006. This led to an agitation as many girls were deprived of their means of livelihood. In that respect, the ban was shortsighted as t had no provision for rehabilitation of the girls who danced in the bars. A few girls also committed suicide, but this did not deter the Maharashtra government.
The matter went to the Mumbai High Court, which set aside the ban. The Maharashtra government went on appeal to the Supreme Court which upheld the decision of the High Court
The Supreme Court of India in a landmark judgment set aside the ban of the Maharashtra government as it violated the fundamental right of freedom to work. The court laid down some stringent conditions under which these bars could operate. The earlier ban applied only to ordinary dance bars and had left the high-end bars in the five-star hotels untouched. This dichotomy of allowing the dance bars to operate in the five-star joints and ban them in the other parts of the city did not find favor with the court, which called it a discriminatory practice.
The dance bars are now coming back to Mumbai. Many have already sprouted up and the girls are back to business. In hindsight, it is clear that moral policing does not work as despite the ban on dance bars the flesh trade did not stop in Mumbai. This incidentally has a thriving red-light district which is frequented by all and sundry including foreigners.
Maharashtra tried one last time to ban the dance bars with an ordinance, but this was also struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. As things stand the dance bars are back and one hopes that the guidelines laid down by the Apex Court are honored.
The old fervor of the dance bars has however abated. The government allowed the Dance bars to open with strict regulations. But generally, the old magic is lost and COVID-19 or the China virus has sounded its death-knell. The government has introduced strict protocols because of the virus and patrons have dried up and most of the dance bars have shut down. There are many who are nostalgic about the old days but I guess times have to change.