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Indian Court Lifts Ban on Bombay's Famous Dance Bars

An Indian court has lifted a ban imposed on dancing-girl bars in the western city of Bombay. The bars were an integral part of nightlife in Bombay, the city that is home to India's entertainment industry.

A year ago, the Maharashtra state government brought the curtains down on more than 600 dance bars in Bombay, where tens of thousands of girls used to sway to popular numbers from Indian films as customers showered them with money.

These ritzy bars were a longtime feature of Bombay's vibrant nightlife. But the state government ordered them shut, saying they were hubs for prostitution and crime, and were corrupting youth.

But angry bar owners, bar girls, and women's rights activists rejected the government's contention and launched a bitter fight. They said the bars provided clean entertainment to the middle classes.

The dance bars' supporters argued that they were tame by the standards of many similar establishments across the world. The girls remained fully clothed during performances and customers were prohibited from touching the dancers.

Nearly 75,000 dancing girls were thrown out of work by the ban, which shut down bars across the state. In the past year, many of the dancers had to leave Maharashtra in search of alternate work and women's activists have expressed fears that some may have been forced into prostitution.

Now the dancing girls have reason to cheer again. This week, the Bombay High Court overturned the ban, calling it unconstitutional and saying it violated the dancing girls' right to choose their employment.

Varsha Kale heads the Bar Girls Union, which, along with the bar owners, has waged the legal battle to have the ban lifted.

Kale says the girls did not get any alternative work, despite government promises to provide them with jobs. She says they faced unemployment, but had confronted the hardship with great fortitude.

One of the dancing girls, Vandana, told local television news channels that she hopes the court order will enable her to work again.

Vandana says she danced to earn a living for her family. She says it was a respectable occupation and she worked hard like anyone else to earn an income.

The bar owners are getting ready to open their shutters - but the fight is not completely won yet. The Bombay High Court says the state government can appeal against its verdict to the Supreme Court within two months. The authorities say they may do just that.