Even before the dance bars reopen, Mumbai's former bar girls are twirling in delight and anticipation. It has been a hard 13 years for thousands of women who once performed at Mumbai's infamous bars. For these women, dancing in front of customers was not exploitative or degrading, but rather empowering and glamorous — it was a job that paid them thousands every night, just to put on a shiny dress and dance the night away.
Everything changed after the 2005 ban. Where they once earned R3,000 a day working at the dance bars, the women sometimes could not earn the same amount in a whole month, despite the back-breaking back work they did as domestic help. Many of them were thrown out of their homes when they couldn't make rent, their children had to drop out of school because there was no money for fees, and several were abandoned by their husbands or boyfriends in their time of need. Some, in desperation, turned to prostitution. Yet others resorted to suicide.
'Lost home and husband'Age 42, Home: West Bengal
I hail from a very poor family. I had come to Mumbai in 2000, after my friend promised to get me a good job here. I got a job dancing at a bar in Borivli. Initially, I was not comfortable in working in a bar, but soon, people started raining money on me. I used to earn over R3,000 a day. I brought my daughter to Mumbai for a better education, and we lived in a rental flat. Everything was going well. I never imagined that all our happiness would be washed away after the ban on dance bars in 2005. After the ban, I could no longer pay the rent, or my daughter's school fees. My husband left me, and I had to work as a house help. We stayed here for a while in the hope that the bars would reopen, but nothing happened. I tried to look for other jobs, but no one wanted to hire an uneducated woman, so I left Mumbai in 2010. Now, I am very happy to hear that court has passed an order in our favour.
'Cops caught me thrice'Age 37, Home: Unnao, Uttar Pradesh
I joined this profession because of my friends, they worked in bars too. In 2003, I came to Thane and started working at a bar. I used to earn well, and life was good. But after 2005, there were only bad times. I had a boyfriend who used to care of me, and we were even about to get married. But after the ban, he broke up with me. A year later, I started working at a bar that was running illegally. One day, the police raided the bar and detained us, and arrested the manager and other staff. Those days were very scary. I had to send money to my parents in UP, so I kept working in bars illegally. I was caught twice or thrice. We always lived in fear, and whenever the police came, we would hide to avoid getting caught. Now I am happy and will be able to work without fear.
'Got into prostitution'Age 24, Home: Madhya Pradesh
I was a minor when I entered this profession. I used to sing at a dance bar in Chembur and have been living in Mumbai for 12 years. I thought I would also start dancing once I turned 18. But our lives became miserable after the ban. Bar owners stopped hiring us. There was tremendous pressure from the family for money, and I got into the wrong profession [prostitution] and compromised myself. Now, I am a bar waiter. The SC's order has given us huge relief, we hope the government will understand our situation.
The girls will no longer be showered in cash, but will be handed tips respectfully, in their hands
'Want my old job'Age 30, Home: Rajasthan
I hail from a village where girls are the breadwinner of the family, and most of us are either domestic help or work at bars. I used to work at a Bhiwandi-based bar. My father was ill, and I had to send at least Rs 10,000 per month for his treatment. After the ban, I worked in a few illegal bars, but due to issues with the police, I joined an orchestra bar. I am happy that we can once get our old jobs back.
'Considered suicide'Age 40, Home: Madhya Pradesh
Three years ago, I stopped sending my son to school after he completed Std IX. I had no money to take care of him and my husband didn't do anything. Now my son works at a garage and together, we run the family. I have been in the dance bar profession for 20 years. After the ban, we were not getting work anywhere. Some people tried to take advantage of the situation and forced us into prostitution. Some girls compromised themselves due to family pressure, and some of them committed suicide. Even I considered suicide at one point, but kept going because of my son. I worked as a waiter, sweeper and house help. Dancing is a profession, it is not prostitution. People need to understand this. We are artistes, just like film actors. After the SC's order, I hope the government allows bars to operate again, because our livelihoods are completely dependent on it.
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