In this essay I look at the emergence of the Bombay bar dancer as legal subject / tabloid sensation / human rights victim / ethnographic object, in the context of the ban on bar dancing and the subsequent legal challenge to the ban . The trajectories I describe that allow the bargirl to speak within the law, also paradoxically lead to the precise moment of her abandonment by the law. If the law is marked by its ability to abstract material experiences into domains of non-experience, how do we look at ways of providing accounts of the legal that are firmly rooted in the force field of law? In what ways can she who is rendered ‘illegal’ speak in the law—only as a vanishing presence, a residue in the archive, or in more robust ways? In this text I search for some of these answers, referencing often video material shot in 2006, that is now in Pad.ma.
By way of autobiography
The Vanishing Present: Viewing the Pad.ma Bar Dancer Interviews
Not for the Promiscuous: The Promise of Citizenship and the Politics of Representation
But is it Art? The Bar Dancer as Enfranchised Artist
Gandaa hai, Sab Dhandaa hai Yeh: Sexual Work and Citizenship
Victim Citizens and The Death of Desire
Tracing genealogies, Mapping Continuities: History, Ethnography and the Bar Dancer
The Tawaif or Traditional Sex Worker
Bombay, Bombay: The Bar Dancer in the Arcades of the City
Law's Labyrinth: Legal Secrets and the Dancing Girl
Legal F[r]ictions: Manouveurs and Metaphors in the Court Room
Their Lordships go to the dancebar: Reading the Text of the Bar girls Judgment
Conclusion: Reading the Unwritten in Law's Memory
In the hands of an epistemological adventurer, the archive becomes a transgressive mode of knowing that rescues the plenitude of experience from the structuring order of the law and historical narrative. Differing epistemologies yield different stories, perhaps even different worlds. Pad.ma’s archive is rich with the possibility for such acts of audacious recovery, of reading marginal notes, of ‘entering the river of time sideways.’ The discursive domains of history, law, literature, politics, ethnography, documentary filmmaking, and popular culture are irredeemably inter-textual, infiltrating and inflecting each other at multiple locations. Moments of emergence of subjectivity in these domains are often co-terminus and mutually constituting. In this essay, I look at one such moment in contemporary India, a socio-politico-legal event—the preceding rumours, the official declaration; followed by the legal ban on dancing in ‘beer bars’.
This moment signals the emergence of the Bombay bar dancer (almost simultaneously as legal subject / tabloid sensation / human rights victim / ethnographic object) while also paradoxically being the precise moment of her abandonment by the law, and her relegation to abjection. The figure of the bargirl, the subject of an Agambenian ‘ban’, she who is included in political and legal discourse by her very exclusion from it, troubles any easy understandings of the inside and outside of law. She can and does enter the law, but only as the abject, the excluded one—the zinda laash, the living dead, call her what you will. http://pad.ma/JN/00:04:03.000,00:04:19.100
Let me begin by placing myself in this story. At the time of the ban, its prehistory and its aftermath (August 2004 to late 2005), I was working at Majlis, a feminist legal and cultural centre located in Bombay, as a litigating lawyer in the Family Courts, representing women in ‘family matters’—issues of divorce, domestic violence, matrimonial property, maintenance and child custody. Majlis’ cultural centre, a separate body of feminist film and documentary activists, which functioned (at that time) out of the same office space, was bound to us lawyers by affiliations both political and personal. While both institutions worked independently in their day-to-day—our daily grind in court, their somewhat more glamourous comings and goings, shoots and edits—the histories of our political involvements as well as our social life as an office were intertwined. Our chai breaks coincided, our cigarettes were smoked in the same doorway, we shared an officegirl, cleaning staff, a kitchen, a library, a bathroom. They threw admittedly better office parties which we were always invited to, and sometimes to our unmitigated delight, we even got to play bit roles in their films. As I explore the pad.ma archive on the bargirls,contributed to a large extent by the Majlis cultural centre, I feel it important to flag this unusual institutional history and geography.
In my years of legal practice at Majlis legal centre, I engaged in the labour of staging legally viable subjects for the articulation of claims before court. I constantly constructed stories about clients; stories of ‘chastity’, ‘motherhood’ , ‘violation’ and ‘destitution’, and domesticity, the grounds on which women made the most un-victimlike, even unwomanlike claims—entitlements to property, rights against families, husbands and brothers. In my work, I dealt with courageous women who had chosen to end their marriages, fight their families, ‘grab’ property, ‘wash their dirty linen in public’. They were often difficult and recalcitrant victims: bad mothers, greedy daughters, unchaste wives, or sometimes, simply women who looked ‘too happy to be a battered woman’ (as one judge put it). It was my task to midwife their transformation from the stubborn and unruly, into the viable citizen, the compliant subject of laws, who prayed to the Court to uphold her rights. I began to feel that in order to come before the law women must necessarily become virtuous victims of circumstance. This figure of the virtuous virgin/docile daughter/dutiful wife/ideal mother is structured around the relationship that woman bears to man within the libidinal economy of the family and the nation. Like the whore in the courtroom, she must constantly (re)enact her abjection, effacing every sign of her agency, even (especially?) whilst making claims against husbands, fathers and the paternalistic state. [The whore and the ‘feminist’ lawyer: A classic embodiment of the victim/ vamp schema in court http://pad.ma/JN/00:01:53.901,00:02:28.935]
In August 2004, a singular public event occurred. A political rally of 10,000 bargirls protesting police atrocities at Azad Maidan, many of them veiled, but carrying placards of semi-clothed Bollywood actresses. ‘If she’s not obscene, why are we?’ their banners read. The size and flamboyance of this spectacle took us by surprise. A TV news channel for a studio discussion of the event invited Flavia Agnes, well-known feminist lawyer and director of Majlis legal centre. It was after this public appearance where she supported the bargirls’ political stand, that she was first contacted by the Bharatiya Bargirls’ Union, about representing them in court. [Images from a later political rally] This chance encounter propelled Majlis into becoming the lawyers for the newly formed bargirls union, first in an Intervention in a case against arbitrary raids filed by the association of bar owners prior to the ban,  and thereafter as a Petitioner in a class action, challenging the amendments to the Bombay Police Act, the legislation enacting the ban on bar dancing in Bombay.
The twin typology of the virtuous, industrious, familial citizen subject, and the sexy, dangerous, femme fatale surfaced repeatedly in the palimpsest interlocking narratives about the bargirl that flooded the media prior to and during this period. http://pad.ma/JD, http://pad.ma/HG
In this, we, at Majlis, in our hyphenated roles as feminists-lawyers, were as much the bargirl’s political champions as her legal representatives. Ratna Kapur argues that ‘the suturing of culture and sexuality in the fantasy of the nation continue to set the discursive stage on which the emerging debates on sex and sexuality erupt,  and it is how these chaotic and polyphonic representations were ‘staged’ in the dramatic space of the courtroom, that I am struggling to unravel in this essay. If the law is marked by its ability to abstract material experiences into domains of non-experience, how do we look at ways of providing accounts of the legal that are firmly rooted in the force field of law? In what way?
Yet can she who is rendered ‘illegal’ speak in the law—only as a vanishing presence, a residue in the archive, or in more robust ways? How does one read and recount the speech and presence of the ‘illegal’ at the heart of the law? I hope this archival adventure will provide some clues to answering these questions.
I hope this archival adventure will provide some clues to answering these questions. This essay is structured as a narrative of fragmentary wholes, a series of annotations on various aspects of the construction of the bar dancer’s legal personhood. As an archival adventurer you can chose to navigate the fragments linearly, in the order in which they are presented, or move between them at random, as interest or inclination dictates.
To begin the disentangling: Several of the videos of bargirls in the pad.ma archive are contributions by the Majlis cultural centre, the cultural half of the organisation whose legal centre represented the bargirls in court. The Majlis videos of interviews with bargirls are acts of representation, both similar and dissimilar to the act of legal representation. They comprise of interviews, http://pad.ma/CL, http://pad.ma/CC, http://pad.ma/HH and performances of ‘typical’ routines, http://pad.ma/CS and http://pad.ma/CY
Similar, in the sense that they are both interested in the question of the ‘truth’ of the bargirl, different in the sense that while the lawyer is only interested in the ‘essence’ of the bargirl as a determinate and legally definable subject, the filmmaker is concerned with the subjectivity of the particular individual held by the camera’s gaze.
The sensation that I am haunted by as I watch the televised images is an abiding impression of the artifice of it. Here I am, watching an image of banned figure, a vanishing present, captured at the liminal moment of its own extinction. The bars are closed, the stage is empty, and the paying customers have all left. Even the costumes she wears have been rendered historical http://pad.ma/CL/00:08:25.320-00:08:46.520 She is performing for the archive, for the documentary, for the record. Here I am she says, this is what I used to be. These videos, of the bargirl shot in full costume, against the backdrop empty, post-ban dance bar, make me think of the idea of 'staging' the bargirl. Why did the documentary maker choose to film her in this mis en scene, costumed thus? More than the words the bargirls speak; it is the film maker / interviewer’s choices in framing her that intrigue me, because they resonate strongly with my own quandary about representing the bargirl in the eyes of the law.
The videos seem to signal that the bar alone is the milieu of the bargirl, even as she speaks of the events that have overtaken her life, that have displaced her from this locale. She can speak from no other location. She is, after all, the bar girl, the bar defines her. Where shall she live, speak from, dance in but the bar? All the girls are shot in the same empty bar set. The Ellora Bar, Borvili thus does not represent where she, (Saloni, Rekha, Geeta) worked in particular, but the bar generic. Yet, Geeta in her words indicates something of the variegated world of bars. Not all bars are the same Geeta says; it is the government’s illogical ban that has flattened our differences and reduced us to sameness.http://pad.ma/HH/00:01:52.040-00:02:08.720
Fissures in the seemingly homogenous lifeworlds of the bargirl, occluded by the essentialising effect of the ban, can be glimpsed in other footnotes, and ancillary conversations. For instance writing about migrant Bangladeshi women in the context of the bargirls’ judgment, Ratna Kapur recalls a conversation with Flavia Agnes of Majlis, which took place at the ‘Consultation on Gender, Migration and Human Rights Law’ [New Delhi, Jan 19, 2007]. She writes: “While the SNDT Report  states that there was no evidence of the presence of poor Bangladeshi women in bars, the lawyer who visited the police stations to represent dancers arrested after the ban was imposed found that the large majority of women were poor ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi women. Agnes claims that considerable tension existed between Indian bar dancers and those migrating from Bangladesh on the grounds that the rates of the migrant women were lower and they were able to attract more customers. When the ban was announced, the tensions became secondary and a collective decision was taken to refute the allegations of the presence of Bangladeshi women for two reasons: There was a concern that acknowledging the presence of the migrants would strengthen the government’s case for imposing the ban, especially on grounds of security; and the desire to protect the Bangladeshi female migrants from immediate deportation. 
In the interviews, however the women (especially Geeta, who is an office bearer of the bargirls’ union)  tend to speak as the bargirl generic, speaking for all bargirls, in solidarity forged through becoming speaking subjects of (subject to?) the ban. The interviewer must struggle to find her subjectivity and ask more and more personal questions to excavate it. [See http://pad.ma/CL/00:00:04.320-00:00:25.560, http://pad.ma/CL/00:01:14.439-00:01:44.278] How does one ‘see’ the absolute singularity of her whom the law (or history or ethnography) has reduced to a ‘type’? If lawyers face the question of how to best ‘fit’ their difficult clients into the requirements of a legal class (in this case how to represent bargirls as citizens), the filmmaker has the opposite representational problem, what does one do when the person before the camera speaks for her class, and not her particular, peculiar self? [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:00:07.000-00:00:37.320]
As feminist lawyers, maneouvering within the perceived requirements of legality while desiring to be faithful to the vicissitudes and varieties of female experience, means questions of representation often get neatly bifurcated into those in the realm of (realist) legal strategy, and those in the realm of (utopian and fantastical) politics. We can and do push at the boundaries of legal definitions, but are constantly faced with the problem of law’s investment in determinacy. The question then becomes how and where to draw the new boundary lines, when every inclusion seems premised on a new exclusion.
In the search of the bargirl’s selfhood, the interviewer engages in a desperate search for the bargirls’ pleasures, rather than her pain. “Dance is pleasurable, isn’t it?’ she seemingly asks. ‘How do you feel when you dance?’ ‘How do you feel now the bars have closed?’ ‘You prefer dancing to other kinds of work? You’d rather dance than do anything else? ’ [http://pad.ma/CL/00:01:14.439-00:01:44.278, http://pad.ma/CL/00:08:15.639-00:08:22.239, http://pad.ma/HH/00:00:36.960-00:01:07.959]
The bargirls sometimes look distinctly uncomfortable with these questions or thought they were irrelevant (for instance, what did you want to be when you were growing up?). http://pad.ma/CL/00:01:31.720-00:01:56.000 or disregard them. [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:00:00.000-00:02:43.000]
The bargirl’s (clandestine) pleasures are framed by the questions as the bargirl’s effaced subjectivity, her secret rebellion against sexual and legal moralities that can view her only as a passive victim, not an active pleasure-seeking agent.
Why can the bargirl not speak more readily of her sexiness, her ‘nakhras’, her love of dance, the pleasure she derives from her own, and other dancing bodies? And why do we as feminists feel dissatisfied with the subaltern’s refusal to speak of her (our?) desire? The feminist gaze is, in this instance, a disconcerting mirror image of male voyeurism, seeking to lay bare the bargirl as she truly is. But like Saira, the burqa wearing Lucknowi tawaif, in Veena Talwar Oldenberg’s ethnography, who wears the veil in the marketplace because she is not in the business of giving men (who would pay good money to see her dancing body in the kotha) “cheap thrills”, the bargirl’s reticence can be read as a refusal to be fully revealed, even as we search for her ‘real voice’, or her hidden desires. In the media, in interview after interview, and image after image, the bargirl vacillates tantalizingly from being skimpily dressed in the shadowy spaces of dimly lit bars, to being modestly dupatta-covered or even veiled on camera.
Law’s representational power pathologises, maternalises and domesticates a woman’s body, forcing her to constantly prove in forensic terms her lack of desire. Feminism in the past has disturbingly amplified law’s obsession with women’s pain and victimhood—‘all sex is violence’, ‘all representations of women’s bodies are pornographic’, ‘she said “No”, and she meant it, she really meant it’. It is only recently that feminist legal scholars seem to have discovered that women do continue say “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to pleasure, to live in the interstices of dominant moralities—to desire sex wantonly/ to perform their sexiness in public/to sell it in the market/ to share it with other women. But how does one frame a picture that speaks to the social agency of the bargirl, while not effacing the constraints she lives with?
In the Introduction to Real and Imagined Women, Sunder Rajan writes about the problematic of positing resistances, without an endorsement of agency in the traditional humanist sense, with its attributes of action as well as intent. She states that her desire is to avoid the romantic fiction of resistance (however politically well-intentioned such a fiction may be) and to redefine individual resistance itself in terms of its social function, rather than individualistic performative intentionality. In other words, it is one thing to assert that female sexual pleasure and agency exist and have a radical and transgressive potential to destabilise norms, and quite another to seek ocular and vocal evidence of the materialisation of these impulses in the biography and body of another in furtherance of our own (pleasure–oriented) feminist utopias. As these interviews demonstrate, such impulses can only be glimpsed tangentially, and will not be drawn out into the intrusive gaze of our cameras (and I should add, our courtrooms). Emma Goldberg apparently once said “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”, what the bargirls seem to remind us is that much like the revolution, the pleasures of the dancer will not easily lend themselves to being televised.
Along with her desiring subjectivity, the interviewer also attempts to find another desiring voice for the bargirl, a voice that fits rather more easily with the framing conventions of constitutional subjecthood, the agency of the artiste or ‘kalaakar’. [See http://pad.ma/CL/00:05:45.000-00:05:51.480 and http://pad.ma/HH/00:00:36.960-00:01:07.959]. Here too she is met with some productive misreading. [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:02:24.118-00:05:02.677] Her questions probing affinities between the bargirl and other female performers (junior artistes in films), are answered with disavowal, and the assertion that all women’s work is essentially sexually exploitative, perhaps even more so than the bargirls, who are at least freely contracting sexual agents. [See Geeta interview http://pad.ma/HH/00:08:34.679-00:09:16.719]
This framing device, of the bargirl as performing artiste connected to a creative community of artistes and entertainers (actors, dramatists, even writers) is at play in the videos of the Citizen’s Inquiry [See http://pad.ma/CO/00:00:00.000,00:03:08.557] where it is again repeatedly elided by the speech of the bargirls. Though the artistic community speaks on her behalf [See, for instance, Javed Akhtar at this talk show http://pad.ma/JD/00:02:06.400-00:03:32.440] the highly individuated and constitutionally recognised notions of creative artistic expression, seem to say little to, or of, the bargirl herself.
In contrast to the filmmakers’ framing of them as individualised artistes, the affinities that the bargirl instead affirms are to the male bar worker, who will also lose his job if the bars are closed. [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:02:56.520-00:03:02.199.] Saloni talks of the freedom of being a bargirl, the pleasures of working on her own terms. [http://pad.ma/CL/00:00:26.960-00:01:01.080] The law has its own abstracted version of this figure: the autonomous individual, who enters into contractual relationships, propelled by pure free will. An image that we, as her lawyers drew on constantly, in contrast to the body of the victimised, sexualised and trafficked bargirl. When it comes to their identity as women workers, rather than the lofty image of the artistic performer, the bargirls locate themselves on the continuum of (degrading) sexuality as they repeatedly aver that dancing is not so bad as that other emblematic figure of sexual work and sexual exploitation: the prostitute, she who does what the bargirls euphemistically refer to as ‘gandaa kaam’ (dirty work). [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:04:50.959-00:05:07.598, http://pad.ma/HH/00:03:22.119-00:04:06.319] In the next section of this essay, I turn to the question of why and in what ways whoredom—the imaginary future of bargirl--haunts her. [See Saloni’s interview http://pad.ma/CL/00:05:19.157-00:05:44.277]
In the interviews with bargirls, they are at considerable pains to protest their sexual innocence. They are not, they repeatedly assure us, not sex workers. Films are murkier universes than that of the bargirl.
Yet of course sex, does happen.
And then, of course, as Geeta tells us, sex happens everywhere.
This need to distance themselves from the sexual nature of their work has been read by some as false consciousness of the bargirls, or a case of ‘telling us what we wanted to hear’, or a strategic move that reproduces the societal hierarchies of good and bad female labour. Certainly, we as her interlocutors (as distinct from her lawyers) were at pains to assure her that her sexiness did not matter to us; we would not judge her for it. But the bargirl, in her refusal to speak of the sex and money of it all, except in terms of sexual exploitation, shows a prescient understanding of the law. She knew, that she was accused of being a whore, and that in the law; there are only two kinds of women. Geeta goes so far as to say that, fearing her impending whoredom; she has already left her husband. [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:03:22.798-00:04:10.000
Mary Jo Frug warns us, in the eyes of the law, we have two choices: to be for the wives or to be with the whores. “[T]he legal rules that criminalize prostitution are located in a legal system in which other legal rules legalize sex - rules, for example, that establish marriage as the legal site of sex and that link marital sex to reproduction by, for example, legitimating children born in marriage. As a result of this conjuncture, anti-prostitution rules maternalize the female body. They not only interrogate women with the question of whether they are for or against prostitution; they also raise the question of whether a woman is for illegal sex or whether she is for legal, maternalized sex.”  [For what a women is ‘allowed’ to be: See also:Devdas http://pad.ma/JO/00:00:01.000,00:00:51.083, the schema of the wife / whore See Vaastav: http://pad.ma/JO/00:27:20.311,00:28:47.899]. The law sees two kinds of women as ‘unrapeable’: the wife, and the whore. The wife because her sex belongs to her husband , and the whore because she is the ‘common prostitute’, her sex belongs to every man.
During the period between the announcement of the impending ban, and the actual enactment of the legislation, the public space was consumed by this question. Feminists themselves were bitterly divided along the now familiar pleasure / danger lines,  one faction arguing that bargirls were sexual agents, voluntarily engaging in work for pleasure; the other arguing that they were victims of trafficking mafias, or at the very least, exploitative forms of male consumerist voyeurism.  A pamphlet circulated on behalf of the pro-ban feminists shows how we divided up on the wife/whore question. It read ‘Sweety or Savitri. Who will you Chose?’  The name 'Savitri' often used in connection with sati, as in ‘sati savitri’, signals the traditional pati vrata, the sacrificial, devoted Hindu wife, she who the ban seeks to protect; while 'Sweety' is a name with no fixed antecedents, the sort of name that makes you ask, “What sort of name is that?’ A love-name, a nickname, a name, which is assumed, deceptive and ‘un-Indian’. It is unsaid but assumed that bargirls are Sweeties rather than Savitris, and that reading public would chose Savitri.
Anne Mc Clintock points to the nature of the danger that the whore poses, and why her body becomes a site for enacting legal prohibition. "The street worker defies the patriarchal order of the economy (demanding money for that which the man is entitled to for free), space (freely roaming the labyrinth public street) and the social (bringing the market into the bedroom, and the bedroom into the market) and hence a cause for extreme anxiety and violent repression." The ‘whore’ is the ultimate symbolic embodiment of the ungovernability of female bodies and desires, their delinquency and deviance, and her shadows haunt the worlds of all women who do not live within the spatial, temporal or economic norms of the public/ private divide. The bargirl who plays with the rules of seduction, and displays her body for money in the masculine space of the alcohol-laden bar room, is particularly vulnerable to the charges of whoredom. [Varsha Kale, of the Bharatiya bargirls Union, talks of the ‘whore stigma’, the bar industry and bargirlshttp://pad.ma/II/00:10:16.960,00:12:05.559]. The judgment alludes to the dangerousness inherent in the combination of dancing bodies and alcohol, in a discussion of various American case laws. Prabha Kotiswaran critiques the judgment for its focus on ‘res extra commercium’ (commercial activities such as gambling, prostitution, liquor sales which are in the eyes of law ‘inherently immoral / dangerous and can therefore be subject to greater regulation) in deciding what was essentially a question of the constitutional rights to livelihood and occupational freedom, and demonstrates how in a legal sense the bargirl is understood only in contradistinction to the whore. 
The spectre of the whore, that iconic figure of sexual degradation as well as sexual freedom, obscures the infinite ways in which female sexuality lives between the lines of pleasure and danger. Svati Shah’s doctoral work studies migrant female construction workers in Maharastra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, who work as day-wage laborers on small scale construction and building repair projects, but also as street-based sex workers, and as brothel-based sex workers in Mumbai's main red light area. The chowks, which are the marketplace for their wage labour, also double up as, pick up points for potential customers for paid sex. They are like both whores and wives. Through this study she presents the continuum of sex work, and a critique of visible, iconic sex work as producing a 'spectacle' of non-normative, immoral sexuality against which normative, respectable sexuality is constituted. The bargirl lives somewhere along this continuum of sexual performance and sexual work, yet in her sudden and forced visibility has to defend herself against the spectres that tend to subsume her. To counter the moral panic of whoredom, those who opposed the ban, not only protested the bargirl’s innocence but also resurrected their own spectres of excess—diseased and abject AIDS-ridden prostitutes who would roam the streets if the bars closed down.
Prostitution is not illegal in India, yet the bargirls themselves, yet we as her representatives were anxious to distance her work from sex work. We could in legal terms have argued, that obscenity that was not already proscribed by the criminal law, was no grounds to deny her rights of citizenship, but that would require a discursive shift of the very grounds of the dispute, which we were unable or unprepared to undertake. There is no answer to this question in strictly legal terms, but Partha Chatterjee’s analysis of the discourse of incipient Indian citizenship in the pre-Independence nationalist discourse may provide us with some hints of an answer. In his analysis ‘the home’, or the private domain, becomes the repository of national identity, to be protected from colonial intrusions. The bodies of ‘respectable’ women with in the home (wives and mothers), and their virtues of ‘chastity, self-sacrifice, submission, devotion, kindness and labours of love’, come to be equated with ‘Indian’ cultural values and the identity of ‘real Indian womanhood’.  The streetworker, and the Western women are the necessary horrors, the ‘constitutive outside’ that haunt the margins of this narrative. Following Chatterjee into the postcolonial moment, Ratna Kapur argues, that Indian citizenship continues to be inscribed within dominant cultural, racial, and sexual norms as well as claims of civilizational superiority. Those that exist outside these normative boundaries are subject to restraint, censorship, persecution even annihilation.  It is thus, in the ways in which narratives of sex, morality and Indian ‘tradition’, suture together to form the terrain of Indian citizenship that the answer to our question about why the bargirl could not speak of her sexiness in the courtroom lies. It was only an assertion of sexual innocence that could save her from banishment, and only from the space of victimhood that she could counter the charges of obscenity, immorality and ‘unIndianness’ that were the grounds of her ban.
On July 21, 2005, the Bill to ban the dance bars in Maharashtra was passed unanimously by the State legislature on grounds that such dance performances “are derogatory to the dignity of women and are likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals”. As I mentioned earlier, this had been preceded by three months of increasingly strident and public debates and campaigning by feminist factions in support of and against the ban. Pro-ban feminists saw the bars as centers of commercial sexual exploitation and commoditization of women-specifically the commoditization of lower caste sexuality, and trafficking of minors into sexual slavery. Feminists on both sides of the ban, battled over the innocence of our chosen victims and the savagery of our chosen oppressors. It was a battled staged over the bodies of the poor, single, industrious bargirl exploited by state violence and marginalised by societal hypocrisy, versus the girl child’s sexually abused and trafficked body savaged by the bar owner. (See http://pad.ma/HG/00:06:30.359-00:06:53.720) The state’s claim (available through interviews with the vocal Home Minister and Deputy Chief Minister R.R Patil was one of maintaining the “purity” of Maharashtrian culture, against intrusions by migrants. http://pad.ma/HG/00:07:09.880-00:07:45.000 http://pad.ma/HG/00:12:09.000-00:13:49.000These narratives often collided and colluded in fascinating ways.
In order for the bargirl to speak, (in order, I should say, for us to speak on her behalf, or for her to speak on ours) as a political, and thereafter as citizen-subjects, it became increasingly important to assert her ‘virtuous’ (desexualised, destituted) victimhood. In this assertion the nature of her work and her relationships was often obscured, and iconic whoredom was constructed simultaneously ubiquitous (Everybody 'does sex', from the secretary to the white collar professional, as asserted by Geeta) as that perilously close fate that would befall (has befallen) the sexually innocent bargirl, should she be forced to give up dancing [See for assertions of this nature by bargirls http://pad.ma/HH/00:03:22.798-00:04:10.000 , and their lawyer http://pad.ma/HG/00:18:50.000-00:19:28.639
Campaigners for the rights of the bargirls had to make a difficult double move. The bargirl is both 'unvictim' (a voice, a citizen, come to claim her rights) and victim at the same time. As an unvictim—the bargirl who came to take her rights—was posited as an autonomous free willed adult subject, consensually entering into contracts with the barowner, which were not sexually exploitative. As a victim she was the brave single mother, the breadwinner of large families who were dependant on her, and was not an illegal immigrant She was not just Indian (and not Bangladeshi or Nepali) but Maharshtrian. She is largely poor and was being further impoverished. It is the police and oppressive state power that rendered her victimised – not the Bar owners. [For accounts on the violence faced by bar workers during police raids, See http://pad.ma/NP/00:00:00.000,00:42:17.000] Other histories of violence and suffering that occur within the walls of bars, such as violent customers, unfair working conditions, even her very sexual-ness, constituted danger in this script and had to be edited out. In opposition to this story of the good victim, the media and women’s groups continued to circulate images of bargirls as promiscuous, wealthy, living in Bungalows, having friends in high places, connected to the underworld and to politicians, wearing the latest fashions, or make-up, carrying cell-phones, etc., as if these characteristics alone rendered her an unworthy victim.
The moves to construct dancers as citizens (not whores) are evidenced in the videos of the ‘Public Hearing’, organized by city activists and film makers (including Point of View and Majlis Cultural Centre) where a jury of eminent citizens heard the voices of ‘real’ bargirls, in a seemingly unmediated access to the truth of their lives. The ‘public hearing’ rehearses and presages the legal argument in fascinating ways. Because in the Public Hearing (unlike in a court of law) it is the bargirl herself who presents her case, it provides us an insight into how these constitutional and constitutive frames permit, and interrupt the bargirls’ narratives of themselves.
The organisers repeatedly stress the affinity between bargirls and other legitimate and enfranchised communities of 'artistes', and 'workers', seeking to move her towards respectability and citizenship. The bargirl is a dancer, an entertainer an artiste, but not a sex worker. [See http://pad.ma/CO/00:00:00.000,00:15:58.000]. In their turn the bargirls speak of poverty, and they’re the lack of economic choices and express anger at societal hypocrisy, at middle class complicity with the state, at a system that discriminates on the basis of class. They speak of families, but not lovers, poverty and hardship but not money or its pleasures, suffering not survival. She thus constitutes herself as violated, even as the platform she speaks from seek to reconfigure her as ‘voice’, not a victim. [See http://pad.ma/BT/00:00:00.000,00:07:09.000]. The two discursive constructions however coincide on the point of her sexual innocence. Sometimes, the repetitive nature of the victimization rhetoric, and occlusion of the central question of rights to work and livelihood, makes organisers ask that they frame their concerns in the constitutional language of agency but this appeal goes largely unheard.
There are other affinities, between this public in the making and the public of the courtroom. The Jury Report at the end of this ‘hearing’ we are solemnly informed to be placed in a sealed envelope and handed over to the High Court bench, miming the court's own processes for admitting important evidence. http://pad.ma/CP/00:06:47.000,00:09:42.000. The monopoly and reproduction of legal forms thus does not only extend to the juridicalisation of the notions and languages of rights and citizenship, but the materialities of testamentary speech, procedural protocols of documentary and documentation practices. In another such Enquiry into police violence during raids, a retired judge officiates, and solemnly cross-examines the bargirls stories of violation. The camera bears witness.http://pad.ma/NP/00:00:00.000,00:42:21.000.
Much like the civil society debates, the myth of an inclusionary modern citizenship and non-sexual national 'tradition' are the implicit imaginaries that underpin the discursive trajectories that the bargirls case took in the courtroom. Within these shared assumptions of nationhood and “Indian-ness”, the storytellers of either side spun their fables of vamps and victims. But, before I get to the drama of the courtroom, and the narrative denounement of the Judgmenet, in the next part of this essay I wish to foray into a brief exploration of two figures from her imagined past, that foreshadow her contemporary construction: the tawaif, and the traditional sex worker.
The Bargirl and the Tawaif
The video of Geeta, doing her ‘special number’, the mujra from the film Umraojaan, instantly brings to mind the resonances between the cultural worlds of the bargirl and the tawaif. [See http://pad.ma/CY/00:00:00.000-00:02:11.000]The arrangement of space in the dance bar, with its low sofas along the walls where customers lounge rather than sit, surrounding a central performing space, is suggestive of a baithak khana. Even when she is not performing a mujra, customers tantalisingly hold out, or dramatically shower the bargirl with currency notes—gestures that evoke the mode of rewarding tawaifs during performances. In all this the bargirl becomes an embodiment of the dancer-courtesan (mujrewali, the tawaif, the kothewali, the colonial ‘nautch girl’), who performs for cash, favours and patronage. She is in fact, the image of the tawaif, as mediated by the Muslimsocial film; the image of an image of a vanished past, the rendering into flesh of nostalgic fantasy. She is an irredeemably tragic figure, a ghostly glance back at the graces of a lost world. http://pad.ma/JN/00:00:00.000,00:01:53.200
In Veena Talwar-Oldenburg’s fascinating history of the courtesans of Lucknow, from their glory days in the pre-colonial Lucknow court, through the colonial period where they adapted and survived, to their virtual extinction in the 1970s and 80s, she delineates the tawaif’s journey in time, from performance to prostitution. Oldenburg speaks of them as ‘powerful, alluring, independent, bold, even wild women’, who through their ‘clandestine, and devious ploys for economic independence, challenge the respectability of society’s central pillar—marriage’. Feldman argues that ‘In pre-colonial India, courtesans cultivated a wide variety of artistic skills, including magic, music, dance, poetry, humour and chemistry. Often courtesans have hovered in the crevices of space, time, and practice—between gifts and money, courts and cities, feminine allure and masculine power, as substitutes for wives but keepers of culture. Reproductively irrelevant, they have tended to be ambiguous figures, thriving on social distinction while operating outside official familial relations. They have symbolised desirability and sophistication yet often been reviled as decadent.’ Tawaifs have made a significant contribution to Hindustani music, dance and literature, especially Urdu prose and poetry, and later, to theatre and film. The tawaif’s relationship to the arts --her cinematic after life and the persistence of the ‘mujra’ notwithstanding-- has largely been sundered today and she has been compelled to render mostly ‘sexual services’ in the kothas. Some tawaifs also perform cabarets and stage shows in smaller towns. A few have earned themselves considerable repute ‘as singers of a popular mix of folk and film lyrics.’ Her traditional musical forms, such as the thumri and ghazal have been stripped of their sensual and erotic connotations, and subsumed into the light classical Hindustani tradition. Her story is part of the historical trajectory of the exclusion of hereditary female performers that paved the way for the birth of a new desexualised idiom in the Indian national performing arts. This latest ban on dancing can be seen as a part of a continuing tradition of similar moral panics, social movements for ‘reform’ and legislative interventions, that sought have sought to erase the cultural world of sexual dancers, from the anti-nautch movement in the late nineteenth–century to the post independence Devdaasi reform movement.
[See interview about Pilay House: http://pad.ma/GM/00:09:22.840,00:11:10.640
Many bargirls are migrants to Bombay from towns and cities in North India renowned for their tawaiftraditions: Gwalior, Agra, Lucknow, Meerut, and Moradabad . Several bargirls allude to their mother’s profession as dancers and the preference for daughters in their families, a phenomenon that Oldenburg observes among Lucknow tawaifs. [For a bargirl’s description of how the birth of a girl is greeted with celebrations, and that of a boy is an occasion for mourning in their community see http://pad.ma/HG/00:03:34.039-00:04:00.520]. It is however not so much the factual historical genealogies that I wish to illustrate here, but the discursive continuities that a simultaneous reading of the stories of tawaifs and the bargirl throws up.
“I am a courtesan in whose profession love is a current coin. Whenever we want to ensnare anyone, we pretend to fall in love with him. No one knows how to love more than we do: to heave deep sighs; to burst into tears at the slightest pretext; to go without food for days on end; to sit dangling our legs on the wells of parapets of wells ready to jump into them; to threaten to take arsenic. All these are parts of our game of love. But I tell you truthfully, no man ever loved me, nor did I love any man” Umrao Jan in Umrao Jan Ada, in Mizra Hadi Ruswa’s 1905 novel, on which the popular film with the same title was based.
In his account of the life of the beautiful and tragic upmarket bargirl Monalisa, Suketu Mehta, captures many of the popular myths and much of the dramatic mystique surrounding the image of the Bombay bargirl.
[W]hat I am adoring, what I am obsessed with, is a girl beyond [Monalisa], larger than herself in the mirror beyond her... it is her that I'm getting to spin and twirl under the confetti of my words. The more I write, the faster my Monalisa dances.
Monalisa slowly draws the author into her dizzying world, telling him of her failed tryst with the son of a Bombay don and explaining the tattoo of slash marks on her wrist. Outside of the gaze of cameras, and the courtroom, bargirls’ descriptions of their relationships with their patrons/clients/ admirers/ “chaahne waalas” carry traces of a learnt, deeply coded language of ritualised romance and infatuation, gift giving, seduction, withdrawal and coquettery, which both defy and mimic norms of heterosexual love . [Brief description of what this is? http://pad.ma/HG/00:06:00.519-00:06:29.399 See also Rekha interview http://pad.ma/CC/00:01:05.319-00:01:25.720]
Veena Oldenburg writes of the ‘nakhra’ or pretence, an essential weapon in an arsenal of devious ‘routines’ that make up the sly subtext of an evening’s entertainment, to bargain, cajole and extort extra cash or kind from unsuspecting patrons. These well rehearsed ploys—‘the feigned headache, pretend sulking and pouting, tears, jealous rage—have beguiled generations of rais, the rich, to transfer wealth to these women’. While in public, the bargirl attributes the ban to the incomprehensible whimsy of powerful men,in private conversation they will tell you, much like Veena Talwar Oldenburg’s laughing tawaif’s tales, of how they got better of a police officer, that the ban is because Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil’s (the moving force behind the ban) nephew became mad for the love of a bargirl! In this context, I wonder if it would be farfetched to read the bargirls’ protestations of sexual innocence before the publics of the TV cameras, and citizens’ inquiries as well as the law, as a strategic ‘nakhra’-- a performance of the erotics of her helplessness.
The tawaif’sindependence from the economics of domesticity, part of her allure for the feminist chroniclers of her story, becomes also symbolic of both her decadence and the profligacy and effeteness of the men she ‘seduces’. Oldenburg first encounters Lucknow’s famous courtesans in the civic tax ledgers of 1858-77, in the Municipal record room in Lucknow. Listed as ‘dancing and singing girls’ she is astounded to discover that they were in the highest tax bracket, with the largest individual incomes in the city, and own ‘houses, orchards, manufacturing and retail establishments for food and luxury items’. Their incomes, though now reduced to a bare subsistence, are still a ‘small triumph’ because the officialdom’s pious claims that they have ‘banned female sexual exploitation’ means that the kotha no longer exists on paper, and the tawaif (now the provider of ‘furtive and loveless sex’, instead of the hostess of extravagant cultural soirees) can not be taxed.
Urban myths and legends of the Bombay bargirls' fabulous and illegal wealth, sometimes in conjunction with other signifiers of her ‘excess’ (including her associations with the Bombay underworld, her Muslim-ness, and her links to powerful politicians and cops) abounded in the media blitz surrounding the ban. [See for Instance:http://pad.ma/HG/00:01:33.040-00:02:01.000] During one public meeting a (pro- ban) feminist activist characterised the bargirls as good time girls who ‘ate biryani, had cell phones and travelled in cars’. Tabloid news stories included an account of how Abdul Karim Telgi (of the Stamp Paper scam, himself a figure of excess) showered a girl with Rs 7 lakhs in a single night. [See http://pad.ma/NP/00:26:25.000,00:26:38.400] where Nikita is probably referring to the arrest of dancer “crorepati” Tarannum in a seven bedroom Juhu bungalow for alleged links with cricket betting.] This legendary Tarannum, is invoked in the State’s arguments for bar closures and makes a fleeting appearance in the text of the final judgment of the bargirl’s case. If the charge of whoredom compels the legal performance of virtue, then narratives of economic desperation, industriousness, sacrifice and the supporting of families counter the allegation of illegal money, and the demons of destitution should the bars close. Money is primarily pleasurable for the comfort it brings to family. (http://pad.ma/CL/00:07:29.920-00:08:07.839)
The tawaif plays a symbolic function in the narrative of the decline of the old pre-colonial order. In Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar, for instance, the zamindar’s financial and moral ruin is paralleled by the emptiness of his music room, his ‘Jalsa ghar’, which is haunted by memories of past soirees. The native ruler’s fondness for nautch girls is a constant in colonial accounts of the fall of Awadh. In 21st century Bombay, the sceptres of the moral ruination of the middle class, the loss of masculinity for the Maharshtrian youth, and the corruption of the family man are as constantly evoked as reasons why the bargirl must be banned. In interviews people shudder at prospect of the civilisational and cultural ruin wrought in respectable residential neighbourhoods by dancing women. [http://pad.ma/HG/00:14:38.000-00:15:35.080] The bargirls themselves are caustic in public response to such hypocrisies. They rarely speak openly about sex, but when they do, they do not speak of its pleasures or their desires, but place themselves on a moral high ground for being sexual free agents: their world is sexualised, much like the lives of all women, but unlike for the wife, sex for them is optional.
While the tawaif gestures to an imagined pleasurable past of the bargirl, there is another historical figure that prefigures her pain—the ethnographic category of the ‘traditional sex worker’. If the tawaif is symbolic of the transgressive, sexual agent, the ‘traditional sex worker’ is the coerced and exploited sexual victim, worthy of rescue.
‘Traditional sex work’ communities signify occupational groups consisting of roving musicians, bards, genealogists, story tellers, acrobats, dancers, sexual entertainers, sex workers, and even brigands, who were associated in the pre-colonial period with the courts of local chieftains and minor royalty, lost their patronage and were eventually criminalised and settled by the colonial state. Colonial accounts of an immemorial, ahistorical ‘tradition’ of sex work in these communities, and the colonial record that enumerates them as ‘traditional sex workers’, appear to date to the same period as their criminalisation. What was relationship between the criminalisation, the pauperisation of these populations and the emergence of prostitution as the main source of livelihood? When and how did the occupational fluidity and peripatetic lifestyles that characterised these communities crystallize into ‘sex work’, and when did sex work become a ‘traditional occupation’? Even in the contemporary, women from these communities, who are often the primary breadwinners and work in brothel-based prostitution, or as sexual entertainers in urban centres (in Bombay, in Dubai), continue to send back earnings to families in the hinterland, and form sexual alliances and relationships that do not fit into the rigid binaries of marriage vs. whoredom. These practices and movements are reconfiguring the ways in which ‘traditional’ caste and kinship ties are forged and lived. Lifestyles and livelihoods of migrant sexual entertainers are still lived in the interstices of a rigidly classificatory legality. Unravelling the ahistorical category of the ‘traditional sex worker’ and following her journeys into the contemporary globalised city, has important implications for the understanding of the postcolonial sexual subject, and the ways in which global capital influences the circulation of bodies and capital. The discourses of contemporary social work, with their reformist orientation however elide these continuities, and disruptions, and are primarily concerned with the ‘rescue’, and ‘rehabilitation’ of these women from their degraded plight ‘Rehabilitation’ within this discourse often means marriage, as in the case of a controversial mass marriage of minor Bedia girls by a social worker in Rajasthan, which was justified on the grounds that they were being ‘rescued’ from the exploitation of ‘nath utharna’ (the ritual that signifies readiness for sexual work in these communities, and is common to both bargirls and sex workers).
A survey, by SNDT University  found about 50 percent of bargirls who were interviewed were from backward castes, marginalised communities and former criminal notified tribes such as Bedia, Chari, Rajnat, Dhanawat, Dehredar, Nat and Gandharva of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. This ethnographic study, cited authoritatively by the feminist opposition to the ban, and quoted in the judgment, is an interesting artefact of the conditions and times in which it was produced, and reflects how categories such as ‘Traditional Sex worker’ can become unmoored from their histories, and can circulate across epistemic registers The study was commissioned by SNDT University, after the ban was announced, with the aim of ‘countering the myths’ about bargirls. Several Bombay feminists who in their activist avatars opposed the ban, in their academic capacities researched and wrote the study report. The study which was based on a questionnaire about women’s age, religion, caste, marital status, etc. It also tried to trace their backgrounds, exploring their work and migration trajectories; studying their working conditions; finding their average incomes and expenditures; understanding their perceptions of their work spaces, the nature of the exploitation that they face there and the future before them, in case the dance bars closed. The study was based on a survey of 500 bargirls, in 50 bars across the city. It’s underlying political orientation, as those of a rival study by Prayas (an NGO working on trafficking, and supporting the ban) are not hard to conjecture. Yet as ‘expert’ texts born of scientific method their truth claims have greater authority, and the political desires of their authors are opaque to the eyes of law. This is not to doubt the veracity of the findings of the study, but to emphasise that the conditions of possibility that produce the various discursive constructions of the bargirl whether as citizen, as ethnographic subject, or as documentary object are irredeemably intertwined, to the point of being inseparable.
Bargirls often perform under names conferred by a favoured chaahnewaala or adopted for themselves, and are often reticent about revealing their ‘real’ names or caste identities that carry the stigma of sex work. For instance, on being questioned about how she learnt to dance, Saloni makes a vague and noncommittal reference to dancing at childhood functions, but states no one taught her to dance. [See http://pad.ma/CL/00:06:31.000-00:06:50.679] However, her smiling reference to Govinda as her favourite because he is ‘one of us’ and ‘like a brother’ may indicate that she is from a ‘traditional sex work community’. [See http://pad.ma/CL/00:02:39.000-00:03:29.559] It is widely rumoured among the bargirls that Govinda is from such a community, though the archive of Google searches and internet biographies do not throw up any such traces. Sometimes the religion of the bar owner, or a favoured patron, or a favourite movie star determines why a name is chosen. Surnames carrying the taint of association with traditional sex work communities are sometimes dropped; Nath utharna is referred to euphemistically as ‘marriage’ and the non-permanence of sexual alliances mean a shiftingness of both names and surnames. The adoption of ‘dance names’ makes religious affiliation and caste identity hard to determine. Despite these difficulties, and the problematics of how ‘tradition’ is constituted, why did the researchers from SNDT chose to use this ethnographic, caste-based category of ‘traditional sex worker’ to characterise the bargirl?
I venture some guesses: Along with the ‘scientificity’ of anthropological monikers, the phrase ‘traditional sex worker’ carries with it the associations of past sexual victimisation. Dancing is a way of freeing herself from the emmiserating shackles of this ‘traditional’ livelihood to which she is doomed—a freedom that the paternalistic law must preserve and protect. The sign of ‘tradition’ also carries another moral load to the bargirl, it acts as counterpoint to the charge of Westernisation, deracination, and un-Indian-ness that bargirl signifies. If she is, after all, the product of a tradition (unchanging from time immemorial), how can she be bearer of corrupting Western modernity that threatens Indian-ness? These are women, the study seems to suggest, who have come to the cosmopolis of Bombay to escape the clutches of a rural, unchanging and exploitative caste structure. And so we arrive at Bombay.
"[The bardancer] for me it is the intersection of everything that makes the city fascinating: money, sex, love, death, and show business.” Suketu Mehta, Maximum City
The complicated and tangled histories of sexual dance in India lead us almost inevitably, it seems, to the bargirl as an embodiment of Bombay’s status as a hybrid cosmopolis, where anything is possible. In Suketu Mehta’s words,"on a good night a dancer in a Bombay bar can make twice as much as a high-class stripper in a New York bar. The difference is that the dancer in Bombay doesn't have to sleep with the customers, is forbidden to touch them in the bar, and wears more clothes on her body than the average Bombay secretary does on the broad public street." The fictionalised Monalisa, who works in an upmarket bar called ‘Saphire’ (South Bombay’s most famous bar was called Topaz) says her dream is to win the Miss India pageant, so she can make a speech with millions of people watching. The speech would be in English, a language that she is working hard to acquire. She is going to say to the respectable audience, “I am a girl from the bar line. Now you can take back all your prizes, all your money, but I wanted to prove that I could get to this point. That we in the bar line are also part of society.” Rekha narrates the story of her relationship with Bombay here: (http://pad.ma/CC/00:01:53.879-00:05:54.758] Rekha’s story of migrating to Bombay as a thirteen year old in a torn dress, escaping poverty to living in a respectable ‘society building’ and buying a plot of land for her family in the village, reminds us that there is something peculiar to Bombay: its mixed neighbourhoods, the freedom, mobility and anonymity a city ‘allows’ its women, that forms a condition of possibility for the emergence of the Bombay bar dancer.
The history of the Bombay bargirl can be traced to the emergence of Bombay as a colonial seaport and centre of commerce and its attendant peripheries of pleasure. Traces of this history abound in contemporary Bombay. For example, the colonial administration licensed 'play houses', and centres of bawdy drama and local vaudeville, folk theatre, dance and music performances and silent movie theatres all grew around the 'play houses'. Faras Road in the red light district still has 'pilay house' (in Hindi, “yellow house”), which has been converted into living quarters for bar dancers and women who work in the local brothels.
As Bombay became a prominent seaport in the late 19th century, its licensed brothels served sailors and received brothel workers from distant parts of the world; it joined a sex trade circuit spanning cities in Asia, South America and Africa and an organised system for directing sailors from ports to licensed brothels was approvingly described by the chief medical officer of as early as 1885. Kamathipura, Bombay’s biggest red light district is named after the community of construction labourers, the kamatis of Andhra Pradesh, whose worker colonies were in the area that the red light district grew around.
[History of Pilay House: See http://pad.ma/OX/00:07:37.280,00:14:31.920 ]
In the nationalistic, morally cleansed aftermath of Independence, Bombay was under prohibition, and the consumption and sale of liquor was banned. However, in the 1970s, new licensing laws allowing “Permit Rooms”—bars with permits for liquor to be served— were enacted. Though liquor sale laws were gradually relaxed, this history of the state’s surveillance and ‘permission’, and the concomitant nexus between politicians, police and bribery continues to haunt the bars. It was also in the 1970s that Permit rooms began to obtain ‘Entertainment Licences’ to have live music, and then dances to prerecorded Hindi film music, and the bargirl came into being.
The bars themselves were not all devoted to dancing alone. There existed an elaborate economy and hierarchy of bars and the bargirls themselves have a complex class system based on these hierarchies. These taxonomies are a strange hybrid of the legal and the everyday. To instantiate: ‘dance bars with orchestra’: where women sing accompanied by a live band or ‘orchestra’; ‘dance bars with music’: the most emblematic form, where bargirls dance to pre recorded film music in a designated central area;’ ladies service bars/ silent bars’: bars which are permitted to employ women as waitresses/hostesses (having acquired necessary permissions for night work by women employees, but not entertainment licences), where non-penetrative sex for payment is often an implicit part of the services. These bars are called ‘silent’ because there is no music. They are dimly lit to the point of being almost completely dark, and the sex work takes place in the seating area; ‘disco bars’ also called ‘pick up points’ which have licenses issued to discotheques, but where women are employed to dance with customers on payment of fee, and commission. Geeta points out how the ban has ended up flattening the variegated nature of the dance bar world [See http://pad.ma/HH/00:01:52.040-00:02:08.720], and the legal imperative to disassociate the bargirls from allegations of sex work, meant that ‘silent bars’ and ‘pick up points’ were silenced in our descriptions. After the ban, the dancers continued to be employed as waitresses, and many dance bars in effect became ‘silent bars’. [See Saloni’s description of this transition http://pad.ma/CL/00:03:41.238-00:05:07.758]
From the central and business districts the bars expanded along with the city and crawled along the suburban railway track routes, following the trail of commuters into and out of Bombay. The class composition of dance bar audiences changed as dance bars have proliferated: they range from the solidly working class to the decidedly posh, though a majority of the bars still cater to working class and middle class men.
The changing urban and industrial landscape of Bombay as a city has been analysed as a causative factor in the rise of dance bars in the late Eighties. Describing these changes, Sameena Dalwai writes ‘that after the disastrous mill workers’ strike that ended the era of mills in Bombay in 1981, much of the mill land was sold off to build multistorey malls, which have become the showcase of consumer capitalism in India today. Slowly the working class was pushed out to the suburbs in the north, altering the urban landscape. The massive growth in the number of bars—from 24 in 1985–1986 to 1,300 in 2001—can be viewed in the light of changing economic culture. The rising demand for sexualised entertainment by men with huge disposable incomes, who can in the literal sense throw money in the bars, may be seen as the current phase of capitalist patriarchy.’ Women employed in the industrial workforce who always ran the risk of being mistaken for ‘bad girls’ and ‘heroines’ [See http://pad.ma/Vgojx6hx/L39e6 for Namdeo Dhasal’s discussion of Bombay’s women mill workers] have also joined the ‘bar line’ since the mill closures. Geeta [http://pad.ma/HG/00:02:12.520-00:02:43.080].
There is an interesting aside in the text of the bargirls judgment that throws some light on the imagined relationship between Bombay and its fast urbanising hinterlands. When the case came up before the Bombay High Court, judges took note of the licensing history of bars in Bombay and pointed to an earlier legislative assembly debate, when a question was raised about the cultural harm to ‘rural youth’ caused by the mushrooming of ‘illegal bars.’
“The following calling attention motion was tabled on 30th March, 2005 by Shri Vivek Patil (Panvel):
The action to be taken by the Government, measures and Government's view on the damages caused to the number of families due to bars, started from last few months in the Raigad District at Panvel, Khanda Colony, Kon, Bhingari, New Panvel, Khalapur, Pen, etc. destruction of the Indian Culture due to the bar culture, adverse effects on the students due to the bars which are in the vicinity of the Schools, the vices spreading in the lives of the young in the rural area due to the impact of the bar culture, a vigorous agitation conducted by Women Wing of Shetkari Kamgar Party against the same on 5th May, 2004 and Rasta Roko Agitation, the representation given by them to the District Superintendent of Police Shri Dnyaneshwar Fadtare with a demand that all the ladies bars in the District shall be closed within 15 days and demand for cancellation of licences given to the said bars under the guise of cultural programmes…”
The reply was tabled in the House by Shri R.R.Patil, Home Minister. In reply to the Calling Attention Motion the following question was raised:
“...The Government is fully in agreement with the view that the young generation is being cultural harmed. A committee of the Secretaries will be appointed under the Chairmanship of Additional Chief Secretary to examine whether the Bars which are therein Mumbai from last many years, are to be continued or not and examine the factors of legal licences and permissions therein. In Rural area, the said culture is now increasing; the same should be stopped before it further increases. The Page 1282 licence granted at places other than Mumbai will be cancelled as early as possible. No new licences would be granted. […] The Government may bear losses to the tune of few crore but in no circumstances, will allow the new generation to be destroyed; the damage of the young generation shall not be tolerated. “
In this telling, Bombay emerges as the lawful city, with a long history of ‘legal bars’ and ‘adequate police’ to ensure their lawfulness. The rural hinterland is the repository of Indian culture, whose ‘young generation’ risks destruction.
Law is the quintessential form of the symbolic power of naming that creates the things named, and creates social groups in particular. It confers upon the reality, which arises from its classificatory operations the maximum permanence that any social entity has the power to confer upon another, the permanence we attribute to objects. . . . The law is the quintessential form of "active" discourse, able by its own operation to produce its effects. It would not be excessive to say that it creates the social world, but only if we remember that it is the world that first creates the law.
Despite common perception of the bars as belonging to a dark and seamy underbelly of Bombay, entirely unregulated by the law prior to the ban in July 2005, the bars were regulated through a dense labyrinth of administrative rules, orders and licensing regulations. Under the ‘Rules for Licensing and Controlling Places of Public Amusement (Other than Cinemas) and Performances for Public Amusement including Melas and Tamashas, 1960’, as well as various laws and regulations relating to serving of alcohol, and Shops and Establishments (including one relating to night work for women), every aspect of the bars functioning from the serving of liquor to timings, type of performance allowed (dance, orchestra i.e. live music, playback i.e. pre-recorded music, etc.) registered address, renewal of licences, details of seating arrangements, height of the stage, the performance area, number of dancers, and guidelines on obscenity were minutely detailed and surveyed. One government regulation dated 16th July, 2004, for instance, details such minutiae as: ‘(i) bargirls dancing in dance bars should not wear clothes which expose the body and also there should be restriction on such dancers wearing tight and provocative clothes. (2) There should be a railing of 3 ft. height adjacent to the dance stage. It should be made binding on dance bars seeking new licences to have railing of 3 ft. Height adjacent to the stage and leaving a distance area of the dance floor should be minimum 10 x 12 ft. I.e. 120 sq.ft. And the area to be provided for such dancer should be minimum 15 sq. Ft. So that more than eight dancers cannot dance simultaneously on the stage having area of 120 sq.ft.’ [Varsha Kale, of the Bharatiya bargirls Union, speaks of the bewildering array of laws that regulate bargirls, and reads from a GR (Governement Regulation), which permits dancing to Western music and Western folk dances http://pad.ma/II/00:12:33.119,00:17:03.278]
Writing about the law relating to cinema, Lawrence Liang points to the fantastical nature of the meticulous taxonomies, and detailed guidelines that characterise the legal ordering of cinematic performances, comparing them to Borges’ mythical Chinese Encyclopaedia. He argues that early censorship took the form of spatial regulations of the space of cinematic exhibition, relating to ‘physical’ danger of crowded cinema halls, rather than the moral content of the film. Liang’s essay tells us that curiously enough, the dancing girl has had a role to play even in the originary moment of legality’s encounter with public and cinematic performance, in what he calls the ‘Secret history of the Cinematograph Act’. Maud Allan, an ‘exotic dancer’, was set to perform one of her ‘famously impressionistic mood settings’ at the Lyric Theatre in Madras at the turn of the century. The Secretary of State issued a circular stating that “the objections to performances in this country by a white woman of her dramatic reputation, with dances of the type associated with her name are obvious.”  Unable to apply the ‘The Dramatic Performances Act’ since it dealt with seditious performances, and unsure if dancing of this nature was indeed a ‘dramatic performance’ at all, the authorities amended the ‘Places of Public Resort Act, 1888’ to include cinema shows, and to state that ‘no cinematograph exhibition shall be held without special sanction of the Commissioner of Police’, which was later formalised through the creation of the Regional Censor Boards in 1920s. Reading this history back, into the moral regulation of bar dancing, where the dancers are themselves embodiments of cinematic images, one is struck at the mimetic reiterativeness of the law and the social worlds it seeks to order.
In July 2005, after three months of acrimonious public debate, the Maharashtra legislature unanimously passed a bill amending the Bombay Police Act, banning dance performances in eating halls, permit rooms and beer bars. The new law specifically exempted dance performances in theatres, cinemas, auditoriums, sports clubs, gymnkhanas, and luxury hotels. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the law justified the ban on the grounds that : ‘1. licensed premises are permitting the performance of dances in an indecent, obscene or vulgar manner.2. Such performance of dances leads to exploitation of women.3. Performance of dances in the eating houses, permit rooms or beer bars in indecent manner are derogatory to the dignity of women and are likely to deprave, corrupt or injure public morality and morals. In addition to reiterating the justifications laid out in the Statement of Objects and Reasons, the State relied on complaints, and reports received by the police, and sought to justify the ban on the grounds that bar dancers were trafficked into bars, and forced to work under exploitative conditions. Underpinning the State’s arguments was a belief that ‘Maharshtrian Culture’ was being corrupted, and ‘youth were being culturally harmed’ by the proliferation of bars.
The ban was separately challenged by the Indian Hotel And Restaurants Association, (AHAR) an association of bar owners, the Bharatiya Bargirls Union claiming to represent 75, 000 female workers in bars and hotels in Bombay, as well as several women’s groups, HIV/AIDS NGOs, and sex workers’ groups. The petitioners argued that the ban violated their fundamental rights to equality, freedom of speech and expression, livelihood and life, and their right to health, (on grounds that the closure of the bars would force bar dancers into prostitution, thus increasing their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS). The petitioners were at pains to emphasise that bar dancing was not sex work , and that the dances were neither ‘immoral and obscene’ nor ‘a threat to Indian Culture’, being imitative of Hindi films and akin to Maharashtrian dance traditions such as the Lavni and Tamasha. In April 2006, almost a year after the ban was announced, the High Court of Bombay struck down the ban, holding that it violated Article 14 [the right to equality, and non discrimination of the bar owners] and Article 19 (1) (g) [the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business].
The Courtroom can be viewed as a complex site for cultural and material negotiation. In the work of Srimati Basu, the Family Court is seen as a space where the everyday dynamics of courts reveal contestations around meanings of marriage, family and the distribution of power and economic resources, and the intersection of publicly mediated authority and the private domestic realm. Rather than the competing constitutional claims of the two sides, I am interested here in the competing ‘social imaginations’ that framed the bargirl as a legal subject, and her constitution in the judgment of the Court.
In the bargirls’ case the courtroom became the place where the diverse stories of suffering and victimhood, survival, sexiness and “unvictimhood” that had been circulated and consumed in the prehistory to the case, dramatically transformed and coalesced into positions and oppositions. Lawyers on both sides of the battleground were drawn into the binary essentialisms of victim/vamp in order to justify their narrative claim to becoming the “official truth” about the bargirls.
This meant that even prior to pressing her constitutional claims, the bar dancer had to repeatedly aver that she was 'Indian' and 'Traditional' [not ‘Western' or 'Bangladeshi'] and further, in the context of the peculiar public configuration of the debate, within a wider constellation of ‘Maharastrian pride', that she was not just Indian but Maharashtrian. Her very claims to citizenship were premised on these criteria. Everything about her, particularly her clothing, and her performance was constructed to reflect this. I give an illustration from the pleadings made on her behalf by the Bar Owners' association: “The dresses worn by dancers in these bars are usually traditional Indian Dresses like sarees, ghagra cholis or salwar kameez unlike the dresses worn by dancers in movies. Similarly, the movements and gestures are far more decent and orthodox than those in movies. The dances performed in dance bars are neither obscene, vulgar nor indecent dance performances for the entertainment of men, is part of the cultural tradition of Maharashtra e.g. Lavnis, Tamashas.”
For the lawyers representing the bargirls, their client had to lose her bawdy “body-ness”, her “wealth”, her dangerousness and every sign of her excess in order to become the imaginary heroine-victim of this tale. There were three main narrative manipulations that had to be undertaken: she had to be desexualised, destituted and violated, but not sexually violated for then her body would be rendered visible. As lawyers for the bargirls we deliberately engaged legal counsel who was a noted “public law” specialist, who framed the debate entirely in terms of constitutional law questions of “unreasonabilty of restriction” rather than feminist questions of agency, sexual or otherwise. This is the bar owners’ description of what bardancing is about:“1. Girls/women wearing traditional Indian outfits like salwar kameez, sarees or ghaghra cholis etc. dance on a stage provided in the restaurants 2. There is no physical contact between dancers and customers. 3. Utmost precaution is taken that no customer touches any dancer. 4. Songs are played by either a live Orchestra and Band or by recorded music. The songs played are from Hindi films and neither the lyrics nor the music is changed in any manner.5. Dancers perform in a manner similar to the dances in films and their gestures and movements are the same as those made by artistes in the songs.6. Customers desiring to give tips, hand over the same to waiters who hand the same over to the dancers, hence there is no scope for any physical contact between dancers and customers.7. Separate air-conditioned, changing/dressing rooms with attached toilets are provided for dancers. 8.Escorted conveyance is provided to dancers to and from their respective homes to the restaurants.9. Food and beverages are provided to the artistes.”
In contrast, to this world of the bars, the outside world is full of immorality. “In Discotheques, young boys and girls wearing hardly any clothes and revealing dresses, dance in each others arms. The said couples are known to consume alcohol and even new age drugs and all kinds of immoral activities are being openly carried on there.” Echoing the bargirls, the ban, then, is a species of societal hypocrisy, a class-based animus against the bars. [See Geeta’s interview on this question http://pad.ma/HH/00:05:24.119-00:05:42.319]. The fact that luxury hotels and clubs are exempted is further evidence of just this hypocrisy.
In a previous case where the bargirls had filed an intervener petition challenging arbitrary police raids, and sexual harassment by police during those raids the bargirls had been positioned as autonomous free-willed adult citizen-subjects, consensually entering into economic contracts with the bar owner, which were not sexually exploitative. In that case her sexual violation by police necessarily brought to the fore her body-ness, and questions of what uses she put it. There were repeated averments pointing to the fact that “she was a dancer, an entertainer, not a sexworker”. However, in this case where the discursive domain had shifted beneath her feet, and her citizenship was itself contingent on questions of her “not being a threat to public morality and order”, she had to become the archetype of destituted and abused Indian womanhood, worthy of protection, pity and rescue, even in order to be entitled to citizenship rights to work, livelihood and expression.
The State’s pleadings relied on their own versions of both the violated victim and frequently, the figure of the bargirl as the financially rapacious and sexually voracious vamp in the stories they told. Thus there was the figure of the trafficked and underage child, under the gaze of lecherous and drunk men in dimly lit bars who stood alongside the “young girls who were employed to attract customers […] make eye contact with certain customers to entice them”. “Dancers would wear dresses which were apparently for name’s sake traditional, but which were truly revealing female anatomy”; who would “dance in a manner unknown to any known or established dance form […] with the sole objective of arousing lust”; their dance was “merely wild gyrations to the tune of Hindi film songs in the presence of men and not traditional or classical dance forms of Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak” in order to solicit “cash rewards”. The sexual was speakable only in terms of its danger—its obscenity, its disorder and its destructiveness to tradition. There are repeated mentions of her immorality, her links to criminality and to illegal wealth. It is perhaps this sentence that captures the anxieties and fantasies of the State: they urge for that certain point where “legal culture and the public morals of a nation may merge, economic justice and taboo of traumatic trade may meet and jurisprudence may frown upon any dark and deadly dealings.”
Clifford Geertz argues that law is ”a cultural system of meanings”, “part of a distinctive manner of imagining the real,” and “a species of social imagination”. (Ref?) In his view, legal reasoning is one of the most significant ways in which people try to make sense of their world, and it is itself partially constitutive of that world. Both sides urged the Court to undertake acts of ‘social imagination’, bolstering their claims through authoritative ethnographic studies. I have already referred earlier to the SNDT study, conducted after the announcement of the ban, [relied upon by the bargirls for ???], which found that many of them were ‘traditional sex workers’, but also constituted them as autonomous, adults freely seeking to enter into non-exploitative contractual relationships. The Report concluded on the basis of interviews with 500 girls that none of the 500 girls interviewed had been bought or sold or coerced into working in any manner, and that the bargirl is aware of the implications of her choice, and knows and agrees to the very specific conditions of working in this profession.
The State relied on two other studies: The first by Subhada Chaukar was titled "Premises of Mumbai bargirls" of June 1st 1998. According to the report the women served in bars because of:
“(1) Attraction of big money and need to shoulder responsibility of looking after the family.
(2) Misery or ill-treatment at home.
(3) No good husband.
(4) Glamour of the job.
(5) Not fit for marriage.”
The State also relied on another prepared by ‘Prayas, a Field Action Project of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai’. Prayas, is a Bombay-based child rights’ NGO which
had been vociferously and publically in favour of the ban, and had even gone to court seeking a ban in a previous case. [See interview with the director of Prayas, Preeti Patkar http://pad.ma/HG/00:05:33.000-00:05:54.639] The report argued that
‘elements of human trafficking are present in the process of entry into this sector and it fits into the definition of human trafficking as per the UN protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, 2000.’ 
In light of these competing ethnographies of the life-world of the bar dancer, the Court refuses to believe any one version, but its inclinations are not hard to glean. At one telling point, it holds that “We must bear in mind that many of these women are widowed, deserted or divorced. They not only work as dancers, but also as waiters and other allied jobs in the prohibited establishments to earn a decent living for themselves and their families.”
At another point, arguing that the bars in themselves do not constitute a danger to public order, merely because as the state avers, women have complained that ‘their husbands have illicit relations with them’, the court rhetorically asks: “Can a girl who may be semi-literate or even illiterate who may be beautiful, knows to dance or tries to dance, prohibited from earning a better livelihood or should such a girl, because of poverty and want of literacy, be condemned to a life of only doing menial jobs? It is normal in the hospitality and tourist related industries to engage young girls. Inability of the State to provide employment or to take care of those women who had to take to the profession of dancing on account of being widowed, or failed marriages or poverty at home and/or the like cannot result in holding that their working for a livelihood by itself constitutes a threat to public order.”
The Bombay High Court dismissed the bargirls’ pleas of violations of fundamental rights, and instead premised its judgement on a rather technical reading of the law. To summarise what it said: Obscenity and exploitation of women are reasonable grounds to restrict the operation of bars. The form of dance in bars is distinct, and so could be treated differently from other kinds of dancing. However, where the state had overstepped its bounds was in decreeing a ban on all forms of dancing in bars, while allowing five stars and luxury establishments to continue to have some forms of (non-obscene and ‘moral’) dancing on their premises. There was insufficient material to say that bargirls were trafficked into bars, or that dancing in bars was per seobscene, and besides there were already laws in force to deal with such obscenity. Implicit in the judgment is an acceptance that immorality and obscenity as defined by state are sufficient in them to proscribe the acts of citizens, and beyond judicial scrutiny. If, for instance, the State had chosen to ban all forms of dancing in all kinds of establishments, the Court following its own logic would accept this ban.
In the judgment, as in our arguments, the sexual, the un-Maharshtrian, the agency-filled, dance-loving woman disappears, to be replaced by a victim. Even her constitutional desires to work, artistic expression, to a livelihood on her own terms, cannot be granted, and must be subsumed within the matrix of the equal treatment of the bars. Her gendered materiality itself is erased at some points, though it reappears in conjunction with her victimhood (as when she is described as widowed, or deserted) or her physical attributes (her beauty, her youth, her complexion). In the text of the judgment, the effacement of the bargirl’s claims to citizenship, takes place at multiple points. In this following section, I summarise a few of the court’s key observations. I apologise to the reader for quoting large chunks of judicial-ese, but the rich flavour of such acts of judicial social imagination are not easily translatable. Here, then is what I believe the 155-page judgment is (and is not) about:
The ban was challenged by the Petitioners on grounds that it violated not just bargirls’ to equality, but one of the enumerated grounds of non-discrimination, that is ‘sex’. The Court, however, in a hypothetical move that selectively erases the gendered nature of bardancing as a profession, and the gendered impact of violence of the ban held that ‘The law banning dancing in some establishments and exempting other establishments, is not traceable to banning dances performed by women only. It is true that the preamble, the objects and reasons clause, and the reply of the State, indicates that it is to ban dancing by women. That, however, does not mean that dancing is being prohibited only on the ground of sex. What is being prohibited is dancing in identified establishments… No dancing is permitted in the establishments say by males. The argument could have been accepted if in the banned establishments dancing by males were permitted. The law makes no such distinction. The Act prohibits all types of dances in the banned establishments by any person or persons.”
While the bargirls claimed that dancing was a form of (constitutionally protected) artistic expression, the Court differed on the aesthetic criteria, and the subjective states that constitute art. It held that “[the] dance performed by the dancer is not to express views held by the dancer or express their thoughts through the medium of dancing. What the dancer does by dancing is as an occupation or profession […] the dancers’ activities are mainly to earn their livelihood [...] The Petitioner organisations have argued that bar dancers are capable of dancing to existing Hindi films tunes. This is the only skill most of them possess and at the highest is a profession and/or vocation or occupation. [sic]”
While the Court accepted that dancing could be an occupation/ profession, they held that there was no fundamental right to carry on the trade or profession, in any one particular manner i.e., for instance, by dancing at a banned establishment. The Court dismissed the claim that the bardancer’s or the bar owner’s right to livelihood was effected by the ban. The barowners could continue to run bars, and the bargirls could continue to work as dancers elsewhere, or in other jobs in the bars. However, they did make some observations about the need for rehabilitation (in cases where right to livelihood was indeed taken away), and who they imagined bargirls were. “In the instant case as we have noted earlier these are women who are mostly semi-literate coming from socially and economically poor backgrounds. Many of them are widows; others have faced exploitation at the hands of their husbands or families. Still others have been unable to secure a job to maintain themselves and their families. In these circumstances even if they cannot claim right to livelihood, it does not mean that while dealing with a marginalised of section the society, whose right to livelihood is taken away, the State is precluded from providing rehabilitation or taking steps for the rehabilitation.”
Not about the right to health:
One argument put forward on behalf of HIV/AIDS NGOs was that bargirls would be forced into prostitution should the bars close, thus increasing their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The court, however, held that the right to health argument was not available to one who chose whoredom. “This argument at least would not be available when a person seeks to carry on a profession or occupation of a sex worker, as sex work is recognised as immoral or an activity which is 'res extra commercium' [inherently pernicious or harmful, such as gambling, selling or consuming alcohol, or prostitution] and there can be no fundamental right to carry on an occupation or profession which is immoral.”
Not a threat to public order:
The Court refused to accept that dancing per se posed a threat to public order, as urged by the State as one of the grounds justifying the ban. It dismissed the State’s claim that it had received a number of complaints from wives regarding (presumably their husbands’) illicit relations with bardancers. The court constructed a narrative of the simultaneous helplessness of the dancers, and their agency in choosing to remain in the ‘indecent sector’, countering allegations of trafficking but accepting the state’s claims of the inherent immorality of the world of bars. Their act of rescue is contingent on the ‘number of complaints the State has produced’ (presumably not many). I quote: “This by itself cannot amount to a threat to public order, considering the number of complaints which the State has produced on record. The bargirls had to suffer commercial exploitation and were forced into a situation that used to leave them with no other option than to continue in the indecent sector. It is true that there is material on record to show that many of those who perform dance in the prohibited establishments are young girls, a large section being less than 21 years of age and with only a primary education. The bargirls had to suffer commercial exploitation and were forced into a situation that used to leave them with no other option than to continue in the indecent sector.”  Inability of the State to provide employment to or to take care of those women who had to take to the profession of dancing on account of being widowed or failed marriages or poverty at home and/or the like cannot result in holding that their working for a livelihood by itself constitutes a threat to public order. “There is no sufficient data [sic] to show that the women were forced into that profession and had no choice to leave it.”
Dancing in bars is ‘different’ or their Lordships go to the dancebar:
The Court undertook an exploration of what dance is, and then investigated the form of dancing that takes place in bars. Dismissing the state’s contention that what took place in the bars was not dancing at all, but some other form of amusement, and relying on the various ‘expert’ reports before it, the Court held that there was sufficient material to distinguish bardancing, from other forms of dance, on the grounds that unlike in other forms there was a specific monetary aspect to bardancing. I quote: “Dancing is both an art and a form of relaxation. Dancing may partake of various forms. Couples may dance together to relax or for entertainment of others. Skate dancing, as a sporting activity is one illustration. Ballroom dancing another. There are then other various forms of dancing embedded in the culture of our regions. There could be a dance performance by a homogenous groups of males and/or females and or a heterogeneous group of female and male dancers, watched by a participating audience and or the like. The case of the petitioners themselves is that in their establishments, what is being performed are dances copied from Hindi films. In other words a species of dance. The State has placed material on record in the form of reports and the affidavit of Waghmare to show that dancers in the prohibited establishments are being showered by cash, which money was collected and shared and appropriated not only by the dancers themselves, but shared between the owners of the establishments and the dancers in varying percentages.”[…] The State's contention is that such conduct of dance is not amusement, but collecting of large amounts of cash from the customers. It will not be possible to accept the case of the State that this would not amount to dancing. The fact, however, would remain based on the various reports including S.N.D.T. and Prayas that the persons who visit the establishments of the petitioners atleast some of them either voluntarily or otherwise part with money, as the hotel owners themselves have made arrangements to exchange high currency notes into low currency notes. […] It would thus be clear that the type of dancing in the banned establishments has its own characteristics. It cannot, therefore, be said that the classification of the establishments in which a particular type of dance is being performed does not constitute two distinct classes.”
The complete ban on all forms of dancing in bars alone, without any material basis, is discriminatory:
The Judgment after its circumlocutions arrives at the crux of its reasoning: the problem with the law is that it bans all dancing in bars, and not just ‘immoral’ or ‘exploitative’ dancing, while it allows other establishments to continue to have dances not otherwise proscribed by obscenity law. It accuses the legislature on being motivated on grounds of class, and distinguishes the girls who dance in luxury establishments as being distinct only in so far as they ‘may have better complexions’.
“The restriction in so far as it prevents the bar owners from having the same or similar dances as in the exempted establishments and the bar dancers from performing dances other than those which can be restricted, is unreasonable and not in public interest and consequently void.”
It holds that in failing to distinguish between obscene/ immoral dances (which are prohibited under general criminal law, including in the exempted establishments such as Tamashas and luxury hotels) and other kinds of dance, the legislature has overreached itself. Implicit in this view is the acceptance that immoral and obscene dance can be banned, and that all dance and all environments where dance takes place, or where women work have the potential for being sexually exploitative. It is only the targeting of bars that makes the law unconstitutional.
“Section 33A discriminates between artists i.e. dance girls dancing in dance bars and Tamasha theatre and at the same time discriminates between the viewers visiting dance bars and Tamasha […] If the object of prohibiting dance performance in a dance bar was to prevent exploitation of women or women trafficking such object cannot be achieved so long as Tamasha theatre, three star and other exempted establishments are allowed to hold dance performances. There was no material before the legislature in support of banning dance bars or permitting Tamasha theatre and dancing in other exempted establishments. There can be no different standards of morality for the affluent and the rich for availing the means of entertainment in the exempted establishments and any common person who can afford to visit place of entertainment within their reach.”
The Court also takes into account that the law does not bar the presence of women from all exploitative environments. By only focusing on the immorality of the dancing, rather than the general exploitativeness of the cultural sphere as a whole in relation to women, the Court seems to hold that the law discriminates against bardancers and bar owners. In a strange way, the court here seems to be reiterating what the bargirls often say, ‘Gandaa kaam is everywhere, Why pick on us?’ [See Saloni’sinterview http://pad.ma/CL/00:05:19.157-00:05:44.277]
“Women can still dance in the exempted establishments, women can still participate in Tamashas and Lavanis. Women can still work as waiters or any other allied jobs in the prohibited establishments. Owners of the establishments are not prohibited from engaging women other than for dancing. Women continue to be so engaged. Those women come from the same strata of society from which the dancers come. The only distinguishing feature perhaps is their complexion and dancing abilities. There is no other independent material to show otherwise. […] These dances which are held to be a class by themselves and could be prohibited, there is no reason as to why similar dances which are permitted in the exempted establishments can not be permitted, as the prohibited establishments are still entitled to obtain a performance licence. The restriction, therefore, has no rational nexus with the object of the Act.”
Patricia Williams, in Alchemy of Race and Rights (1983:7), writes that bringing works of sociology, history, philosophy and psychology to bear on doctrinal analyses of the law has the effect of highlighting factors that would otherwise go unremarked. For example, the doctrine of stare decisis (the doctrine of deciding cases in a manner limited by prior court decisions in factually analogous situations), rather than remaining a silent, unquestioned 'given', may be analysed as a filter to certain types of systemic input. Sarat, and Thomas R. Kearns similarly say that the law looks to the past as it speaks to present needs. In the production of judicial opinions, judges reconstruct law's past, tracing out lines of legal precedent that arguably "compel" their decisions. Precedent is thus law’s memory, and the law becomes the social memory of what really happened.
So this then is what really happened to the bargirl. She went to court, she won, but at the cost of becoming a pale desexualised, destituted, nationalised shadow of herself. The State went on appeal, the Supreme Court granted an injunction, and the bars remain closed. And the bargirl? (The dancing, sexy one, I mean.) She continues to haunt the margins of legality.
In Bodies that Matter (1993), Judith Butler argues that the ‘matter of bodies’ are not only indissociable from the regulatory norms that govern their materialisation, but also that the regulatory schemes producing ‘bodies that matter’ are historically revisable because they are productive also of an excluded domain of abjected bodies that challenges the symbolic order. Yet this apparition of the other lurking at the margins of the norm, ‘the traces of absent [person]’, are ‘necessarily both oppositional and precarious’. Here’s my attempt at resurrecting another bargirl, from the domain of the excluded, a ghost in the archives of legal memory. It’s something of a story:
During the lengthy and prolonged arguments in the court, lawyers read long extracts from precedents and decided cases. In one such argument, on the point of obscenity, the lawyer for the bar owners began to read from a judgment on obscenity law. It involved a cabaret dancer from the seventies; she was acquitted of all charges.
As he read, in his black robe and all his regalia in Court room no 54, the low murmur of the court in its daily business slowly silenced itself and a hush fell:
“ The artist was Accused No. 1, Miss. Joyce, also called Temiko. We are concerned with her cabaret show in this case. The prosecution alleged that Temiko, accused No. 1 was dressed in a transparent gown. She was smoking when she entered the hall accompanied by cabaret music. Spotlight was on her. All other lights were off; she danced for a few minutes. Then she started moving around the table shouting aloud. She nudged various customers at their backside and blew smoke on their heads. She approached the customers in the dance hall of Blue Nile to remove her clothes. Some customers obliged till she was left only with transparent panties. She then lay fatly on the floor making erotic moves with her legs and body suggesting sexual acts. She made strokes against the floor and uttered cries, which made people get up from their chair and look at her. Subsequently she put on a transparent gown, which left her left breasts open to view. She shouted to the customers to suck them. She further put her nipples in the mouth of some customers; she was also brushing people with her breasts. The cabaret lasted till 12:30 AM. It is said that at the end of the show, SG SI Desai was annoyed at the show and approached Inspector Daxinar. “It is true that I did a cabaret at the Blue Nile between the night of 19-12-1970 and early hours of 20-12-1970. It is not true that I entered the hall in a transparent gown, which was upto my hip. It is true that I entered the hall smoking. It is not true that I approached the customers and requested them to remove my clothes one after another. It is not true that except for my panties, I was completely naked. It is not true that I lay on the floor and that I was moving my legs, hands and my body in a typical way or in an erotic manner. I say that in a cabaret such as mine, I had to dance to the rhythm of the music. It is not true that I lay on the ground and was striking it with my body. It is true that people did gather around the floor. “It is not true that I was striking my breasts in a violent manner. It is not true that I inserted my nipples in the mouth of the customers or I pushed them with breasts or hips, it is true that when I came to the floor, I removed my top gown. It is not true that I opened my brassiere. It is not true that I subsequently took out / put on? On another gown which was open in front and which showed my breasts. It is not true that I blew smoke on customers and played with their hair. It is not true that some persons in the audience were annoyed. It is not true that nobody called at the show. They was great applause”. She also filed a written statement reiterating what she had said in her statement under sec. 342: “I was giving the performance of a western dance known as ‘Solo’ which is a well known performance and during the same dance, I had to bend as low as to be near the ground and rise up again to the tune. I deny having rolled on the ground naked and taken out my brassiere at that time. It is clear that the witnesses have not understood the same as is evident from the statement of Khanna. I say that my performance is very much liked and that there are many who repeatedly come for the show. On the day in question also, my performance was very much appreciated by the audience who called me throughout the show by way of appreciation. There was no one in the audience who left in the middle and everyone including the ladies sat through out the show. I have been giving these performances since last three years at various places and am appreciated.”
I rushed back from the court that day to find this judgment and sure enough, after searching through several files, buried in the mountains of case laws and precedents, at long last, I found her. Here was the frankly, unapologetically sexual body of the dancing woman. She was there all along! The case finds no mention in the final judgment. My researches on Joyce Zee and Miss Temiko have turned up nothing. She is merely a trace, a slippage, perhaps a spectre? But to me she is important because she represents a legally constituted subject—she is, after all, facing criminal charges in an obscenity trial—who by inserting herself (her dancing self, her unabashedly sexy, fleshy self, not her violated self alone) into the law, subverts it. She is within the law, in its attic perhaps, or buried in the volumes of papers in its subterranean cellars, in the labyrinth city’s underbelly and dark side. Yet law cannot avert its gaze, and she disrupts and interrupts the law’s easy fable and narrative closures.
The rereading ‘against the grain’ of the legal archive has been a rich historical resource for allowing the subaltern to speak. Ranajit Guha in Chandra’s Death, reads between the lines of the legal documents surrounding a young woman’s “murder” due to a failed abortion to unearth fragments of her social reality and individual subjectivity. Guha Ranajit, Chandra’s Death in Ranajit Guha (ed.) Subaltern Studies V, Oxford University Press: 1987. Shahid Amin relies on the trial records and especially the approver’s testimony in the criminal trial of the Chauri Chaura accused to retrieve a local and forgotten account of an event in national history, which runs contrary to both the nationalist narrative (which views the events at Chauri Chara as an ‘aberration’) and the colonial narrative (which treats it as murder). Amin Shahid, Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura 1922-1992, Penguin: 2006. Anthropological work too has uncovered significant traces of effaced subjectivity within the official archive. Veena Das’s reading of cases before the tribunal involving the ‘abduction’ and ‘return’ of women who crossed national borders at the time of Partition, and the narratives of familial and national ‘honour’ within which they are embedded is an example. Das, Veena, Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Colonial India, Oxford University Press: 1995.