New Delhi: The controversial law banning dance bars in Maharashtra, which provided employment to thousands of women, was put on hold by the Supreme Court today. The court, however, said the dignity of women should be protected and it was the duty of the state police to ensure that it was done.
Dance bars have been a contentious issue in the state, despite successive governments, cutting across the political divide, branding them as fronts for prostitution.
After the court ruling today, BJP's Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government "stood by the law passed by the earlier (Congress) government". Later, he tweeted:
Although SC interim order mandates regulation instead of ban on dance bars,Govt still favours ban.We will examine & press our demand in SC.- Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) October 15, 2015
The law banning dance bars was passed unanimously without a debate in June 2014, after the top court had quashed an earlier law banning dance performances in bars the year before.
But restaurant owners had challenged the law, arguing that the state was thwarting the intention of the court. The court agreed that although it had set aside a similar provision, the law had been brought in a new manner. The court will hear the case again on November 5.
There were around 700 establishments across Maharashtra, which employed more than 75,000 women. They performed Bollywood-style dance routines in bars, receiving cash tips from patrons apart from their salaries.
The state police had cracked down on dance performances in bars for the first time in 2005. Elite establishments, including five star hotels, were however, exempted. The state thereafter, bought in a law banning dance routines in all establishments.
The dancers' union had opposed the ban, saying many of its members would be forced into prostitution if the state refused to allow dance performances.
"We are happy with the decision of court," said Bharat Singh Thakur, president of the Dance Bar Association. "We always respected the dignity of women. We have been running dance bars since 1997 and there was no complaint against us on obscenity."