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Court lifts ban on bar girls

Bangalore, Sept. 24: Women can now serve liquor in bars across Karnataka but it is the live bands, branded pick-up joints by police, that are saying cheers.

Karnataka High Court today allowed women to be employed as hostesses in bars and restaurants where liquor is served, overturning restrictions that the petitioners claimed were outdated and gender-insensitive.

But the verdict added a twist to the ongoing feud between the city police and live band owners, and angered women activists who said the judgment would help band owners make a “backdoor entry”.

Band owners said the police, who had clamped down on their operations for the last three years, could not now reject petitions to reopen their business as the judgment was open to interpretations.

The police have so far cited excise rules that prohibit dancing and live bands on the same premises. The police also claim places that allow live bands are essentially pick-up joints and are responsible for the soaring crime rate, especially at night.

Despite a small breather two months ago from the high court, which upheld the police version but said authorities could consider giving licences to live bands provided they met all safety criteria and laws, the cops have not relented.

It is not clear whether the court order today mentioned dancing but advocates of live bands feel “hostesses” will draw more clients. But critics say “hostess is a word that can be interpreted to include dancing”.

After the verdict today, the Live Band Association said if the state’s 5,000 bars and restaurants employed five women each, it would translate into 25,000 jobs for women.

When the bands were closed down, it added, about 1,200 women lost their jobs.

In his verdict, Justice Shailendra Kumar quoted a Supreme Court order that permitted women to serve liquor in bars and struck down sections of the Karnataka Excise rules, 1967, and the Excise At, 1985, that prohibited women from being employed in bars and restaurants.

The court accepted the petitioners’ contention that not allowing women to work in these places were violative of Articles 14, 15, 16, 21 and 39 of the Constitution. The articles deal with equality and gender discrimination.

But Pramila Nesargi, former chairperson of the state women’s commission, said the judgment would help live bands make a backdoor entry.

“The court has not thought about the repercussions in society. This will lead to thousands of Jessica Lal cases,” she said, referring to the model who was shot for refusing to serve liquor after a bar had closed.

The ruling has also come as a surprise as the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act does not allow women to work between 8pm and 8am except those employed in the media and the IT-enabled services industry.

“As serving liquor is an evening and night activity, we cannot allow it. But we have to get a copy of the court’s order before we can comment,” a labour department official, who regulates work timings for women in the state, said.

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