The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bar ban to cripple Mumbai suburb

Mumbai, April 16: If the dance bars close down, an entire locality in Mumbai will look very different.

Malwani, a shabby suburb in Malad in north Mumbai, is home to the largest ghetto of dance bar girls in the city. It houses 6,000 of the 75,000 women in the profession.

Malwani is dirty and smells of clogged drains, like any other extremely poor, forgotten end of the city. Except for the rows of interesting shops that line two sides of the main road in the stretch between gate number 5 and 7 where the bar girls live.

If the girls lost their jobs, these shops, their owners and workers, who number a few thousands, would also lose their livelihoods, and Malwani would become any other place.

But the first to lose out will be the landlords.

Malwani has attracted dance bar girls over the last two decades. They live here and work in various parts of the city. 'Malwani, a marshland by the sea, was originally a place where criminals were sent off to after tari paar,' says Prabha Desai of Sanmitra Trust, an NGO that works in Malwani with the bar women.

'It was an undeveloped, unsafe, though cheap place,' she adds. 'But since bar girls find it difficult to stay in residential areas, always being thrown out of housing societies for their profession, or their lifestyle, or their boyfriends, or the perception that they may be a bad influence on the neighbourhood's boys, they have come to stay in Malwani over the last two decades, since the dance bar business took off,' says Desai.

There are advantages ' there are no middle-class eyebrows raised at them, and they live in rooms or slums very close to the main road.

That is why in Malwani one of the biggest businesses is renting out rooms ' and landlords and landladies, often with links with the underworld, will be among the first ones to be hit if the bars close down and the girls start moving away.

There are three main areas in Malwani where the bar girls live. There is segregation by region. The Rajasthani girls, about 1,200 in number, crowd one lane and Dilliwalis and girls from north India, numbering about 500-600 ' both the groups are in demand for their fair skin and 'good figure' at the bars ' stay in another. The third group of Bengalis, of about 2,000 women, occupy rooms in a ground with individual plots.

'The girls pay Rs 200 per day per head for a room,' says Desai. 'They would pay a little less before the recent slum demolition. But after the demolition, a number of girls had to shift. The landlords are charging them more now,' she says.

If the ban on bars puts an end to exploitative rents, it will also put an end to some aesthetic, if commercial, pursuits.

For here, there is the ubiquitous fruit-juicewallah and the sandwichwallah and the grocery, but they are far outnumbered by beauty parlours and tailoring shops.

Every second establishment is a beauty parlour ' a cramped room that is called Aishwarya Beauty Parlour, or Dulhan, or Dimple ' or a tailor's shop, or a shop selling clothes and lingerie.

But the people most affected, Desai says, will be the girls themselves. 'If dance bars are closed down forcibly, it will immediately result in underground prostitution,' she says.

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