India's dancing girls step out to protest at club crackdown

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of dancing girls and bar owners took to the streets yesterday to demonstrate against a decision to close the infamous dance bars and clubs of Maharashtra in west India. Crowds of colourfully dressed women and vociferous bar managers swamped the roads in an attempt to register their discontent with a move which they claim is discriminatory and incompatible with the state's reputation as a haven for hedonistic partying.

Hundreds of dancing girls and bar owners took to the streets yesterday to demonstrate against a decision to close the infamous dance bars and clubs of Maharashtra in west India. Crowds of colourfully dressed women and vociferous bar managers swamped the roads in an attempt to register their discontent with a move which they claim is discriminatory and incompatible with the state's reputation as a haven for hedonistic partying.

Local authorities announced the immediate closure last week, denouncing the popular dance bars as "dens of iniquity" which act as breeding grounds for crime. Police claim the venues, which employ more than 100,000 women state-wide, double as pick-up joints and are often used as venues for prostitution, although they have always retained their legal status.

"It has been seen that a lot of youths in these (rural) areas splurge money in these bars and indulge in crimes," Maharashtra's home minister, RR Patil, told the state assembly.

Bombay, the state capital, has so far escaped the ban but Mr Patil hinted its bars would soon face a similar fate, adding that a committee had been set up to re-examine the issue. "Bombay has a long history of such bars and closing them will not be easy," he admitted. The ban has enraged dance-club owners and employees alike, who claim it will do massive damage to the local economy and will leave tens of thousands of dancing girls unemployed and poverty-stricken.

The president of the bar owners' association, Manjit Singh Rekhi, demanded the government revoke the ban. "Otherwise, we will bring the entire liquor industry to a virtual halt and also carry out a protest march of all the women working in these bars to Patil's house," he said. Yesterday's protesters say they are the victims of prejudice and want compensation. They point out that the vast majority of the girls are not qualified to find work elsewhere.

There are almost 1,500 dance bars in Maharashtra state, employing about 100,000 women as scantily-clad dancers.

The government has long been trying to make bars clean up their act, ordering regular police raids and arresting owners and dancers for various offences. But with venue owners planning legal action and more protests in the pipeline, one thing is certain: the dancing girls of Maharashtra are going nowhere without a fight.

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