Mumbai, Jan. 7: One group represents the cream of the country’s youth; the other tiptoes around society’s fringes.
But a common cause unites Mumbai’s outlawed bar dancers and Youth for Equality, a band of young doctors and students opposed to caste-based reservation.
Both feel let down by the political establishment and plan to contest next month’s Mumbai civic polls, which is becoming a popular launch pad for aggrieved groups seeking a voice in Indian democracy.
Within weeks of a body of housemaids announcing it would field 20 candidates, the bar girls have decided to contest the civic polls not just in Mumbai but in nine other cities to strengthen their fight against the Maharashtra government.
“We have realised that gaining political power is the best way to fight for the livelihood of the dancers, many of whom have been pushed into the sex trade by the ban on dance bars,” said Manjeet Singh Sethi, president of the Fight for Right Bar Owners Association.
Youth for Equality (YFE) spokesperson Gunjan Sharma couldn’t agree more.
“Last year, we were on the streets protesting against reservation (the other backward classes quota in institutions of higher learning), clashing with the police and sitting on fasts and dharnas. But the government ignored us and passed the reservation bill,” the medical student said.
“So now we want to enter the law-making bodies, so we can show these politicians who divide the country to gain votes that we can carry the battle forward. If necessary, we can become lawmakers ourselves.”
The organisation will field a lone candidate, 23-year-old law graduate Sanjit Shukla, from ward 167 of Mumbai’s Sion, home to Asia’s largest slum Dharavi. Sanjit’s late father Ramjivan Shukla was a social activist.
This, Sharma says, is just the beginning. YFE will also fight the Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan state elections.
The bar dancers plan to field 50 candidates in Mumbai alone and have promised to name the candidates for the 10 municipalities they are looking at by tomorrow.
“We haven’t been able to register our party yet, so the candidates will have to fight as Independents,” Sethi said.
He added that the move was inspired by a former bar dancer’s success in the recent local polls in Panvel on Mumbai’s outskirts. “It proved we can get the people’s support.”
Sethi had been arrested last year for breach of privilege after he hurled corruption charges at deputy chief minister R.R. Patil, the man who ordered the dance bar shutdown ignoring accusations of “moral policing”.
The bar dancers’ appeal against the ban will be taken up by the Supreme Court on January 9 — so they can hope for a victory outside the legislative process. But for the students, politics is the only option.
“We realise we need to be part of the country’s decision-making process. This will make our democracy a participatory one in the true sense,” Sharma said.
“It will also stop politicians from blowing non-issues up into huge political planks. We have decided to enter the political system to change it.”