From India: Live Clothed Girls May Be Stripped of Their Dance Jobs


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At Azad Maidan, where Gandhi once led a sit-down strike against the British Empire, another act of civil disobedience is now unfolding, this time not for the sake of self-rule but for a woman’s right to dance for a living.

At issue is the fate of a peculiar Mumbai-style cabaret known here as the ladies bar. The state has said it will close the bars on the grounds that they corrupt the young, destroy the family and promote prostitution. Their defenders, an odd mix of professional feminists and pistol-packing barkeepers, have put up a spirited fight, and their sit-down strikes on a dry dirt field have brought a daily parade of night crawlers – dancers, bouncers, bar owners – to squint and sweat under the midday sun.

One afternoon this week, a dancer who called herself Shoma and gave her age as 25 cooled off with a Popsicle and raged against the politicians threatening to take away her livelihood of six years. Her family eats because of her earnings, she said; her daughter attends a private school. "Why is the government saying this now?" Shoma asked. "Maybe they want more money?"

The ladies bars of Bombay, as this city is widely known, are a curious hybrid of Bollywood fantasy and an old South Asian palace tradition in which women sing and dance for men of wealth. These are not strip clubs: the women remain fully clothed, and the men are not allowed to touch them. They are not discos: the women dance, and the men can only offer cash from their seats.

At an upscale club on a recent Friday night, a dozen women in shimmering chiffon skirts swayed their hips, lip-synched and gazed at themselves in the mirrored walls.

If it were not for the men who crowded the seats along those mirrored walls, they could have been dancing in front of their bedroom mirrors, in preparation for the high school prom. The men, meanwhile, sat along the mirrored walls, nursing beer and whiskey, fanning out their money like cards on a blackjack table and tossing it at a favorite dancer.

In one corner of the bar, a man kept his attention and his money focused on a languid young woman in yellow. She moved to the music, threw back her hair, admired herself in the mirror and responded to his invitations to come closer, each time, fattening the stack of bills in her hand. In a high-society bar like this, on any given night, it is possible to take home over $100, an unimaginably handsome sum for a working woman in Mumbai. In less elite bars, a dancing girl is lucky to take home $10.

The crackdown on dance bars comes as the Bombay police step up a broader anti-sleaze campaign, tearing down movie posters, billboards and music videos they consider to be vulgar. The latest target was an advertisement featuring a man and woman in various compromising positions, competing for an ice-cream cone.

Sanjay Aparanti, the newly appointed deputy commissioner of police, calls it his personal crusade to rid Mumbai of what he considers the exploitation of women. "Man has no right or reason to project women as a commodity," he declared in an interview in his office here the other day and then went on to compare the base nature of humans versus animals. "In the animal kingdom, the female is respected. The lioness would sit with her cubs. The lion doesn’t commit atrocities against her."

The dance bars, Mr. Aparanti said, are only an excuse for men to pick up women, stay out late and ultimately destroy the Indian family.

Soliciting is not permitted in the dance bars, but it is understood that a man will try to get a woman’s phone number, or try to invite her out for a meal, or perhaps then try to take her to bed. It is also understood that a woman’s job is to milk his desire for as long as possible.

As for the lascivious gazes of the men, the dancing girls brushed them off as a fact of life in this trade, as in every other. "This thing happens in an office, it happens in modeling," said a dancer who called herself Bobby. "It’s up to you."

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Author: LMAshton

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