| Hard days ahead: A dance bar worker at a protest march. File picture
The ban on dance bars will push the women working in them into much greater sexual exploitation and their rehabilitation into “respectability”, which the proponents of the move are seeking, may not be very easy.
In an effort to pressure the Maharashtra government to take a second look at the proposed ban, activists came together to release the findings of the first organised research into the lives of the women working in the bars.
The study, conducted by the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT University, and activists from the NGO Forum against Oppression of Women, looks at the working conditions and background of the women.
“Deputy chief minister R.R. Patil has said the women will be rehabilitated into call centres or beauty parlours. But that may not be very easy, given the fact that most of them are barely educated,” said Chayanika Shah of the Forum against Oppression of Women.
She said the other reason the women remained so vulnerable was an overwhelming number of them were the sole bread-winners for their families.
The research was based on a small sample size of 153 women working in 15 dance bars in Mumbai, who were interviewed at their workplaces.
The study will continue to interview more women, but the organisations felt it was necessary to come out with the findings at this stage to point out the risk the government ban will expose the women to.
“Almost 50 per cent of the women had no education, 25 per cent had primary education and 17 per cent had studied up to Class VIII,” it says. Only 13 per cent of the women said they had elementary knowledge of skills like stitching, nursing, typing or computer.
At the same time, 62 per cent are single earners for their families while another 26 per cent come from families completely supported by women.
This has also to do with the social background of the women. Many of them come from north Indian communities that traditionally send their women, who are the only bread-winners, into dancing or prostitution.
The survey found that every woman from such a background was supporting families with an average of nine dependants.
Most of the other women, too, have many dependants. An overwhelming 80 per cent of them come from outside Mumbai ' 30 per cent from Uttar Pradesh and 17 per cent from Bengal ' and they have to send money “home”, where their families often do not know their daughters are working in bars.
The women have their men to look after, too. Many of the women have partners and only a few are married. But neither the partners nor the husbands contribute much to their households and are used to living off the bar workers’ earnings.
So, it is no way out of the bars for the women.
The study states that some of the women admitted doing occasional sex work. But when asked about the eventuality of the dance bars closing down, a large number of them said they would be forced to walk the streets or have to work as prostitutes regularly.
This has started already, said Varsha Kale, who heads the Association of Bar Girls. “Already, there is indication that many of the women are going to the illegal ‘free bars’ and ‘silence bars’, where sexual services are offered at very cheap rates and inside the bar itself.”
The study wants to dispel certain misconceptions, too. It says though there is a belief that bar workers have very high incomes, on an average they earn between Rs 10,000 and Rs 30,000. It also says there are not many foreigners among those surveyed, which indicates that the government is wrong in its claim that many bar workers are Bangladeshis staying illegally in Mumbai.