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Indian Women Win the Right to Tend Bar

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India's Supreme Court has struck down a 1914 law that prevented women from tending bar. The justices rejected the Delhi government's argument that women bartenders would find themselves in peril at the hands of unruly male patrons. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Indian capital.

It has taken 93 years but India's women have finally won a spot behind the bar. The country's supreme court justices ruled that state laws barring female employees in bars and in restaurants where alcohol is served should be struck down as unconstitutional.

They took particular exception to the Delhi government's ban, which cited a need to protect women from drunken men.

Delhi and some other states adhered to the colonial era Punjab Excise Act of 1914 that deemed only men 25 years of age and older fit to be employed in bars.  The city's high court had struck down the act last year, prompting an appeal by the Delhi government to the Supreme Court. 

At one of the city's most prominent bars, Rick's in the Taj Mahal hotel, bartender Nitin Tewari is looking forward to working alongside women. He says he does not expect they will encounter any trouble, at least in the bars of the capital.

"The people who are living in Delhi are much more sophisticated," says Tewari. "They know how to react with the lady behind the bar. So they will give the proper respect to the ladies working behind the bar."

Sipping a beer at Rick's bar, Aditya Gupta, a young Mumbai businessman (who went to college at Stanford University in the U.S. state of California), says he is so accustomed to seeing women working in bars around the world he was not even aware there was a ban in India.

"The way India is moving I really don't think there should be a gender bias on anything. It just never made sense to me to actually ban women or prevent women from doing something," observed Gupta.

In its appeal the Delhi government argued that liquor is a factor in nearly all cases of domestic and sexual violence.

The court ruling on Thursday also lowers the age for bartenders to 21. At the moment, the legal drinking age in Delhi and many parts of the country is 25. The bartender age change is expected to herald a lowering of the legal drinking age as well.

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