Restrictions on dance bars moral policing: SC to Maharashtra govt
The oral remarks by a bench of justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan came while it was hearing pleas of hotel and restaurant owners challenging the Maharashtra government’s new rules on the functioning of dance bars.
- Supreme Court on Thursday said there was “total moral policing” in Maharashtra
- The apex court also questioned the state government for presuming that all performances by bar girls were obscene
NEW DELHI: Noting that not even one dance bar was allowed to operate in Mumbai on the pretext of controlling obscenity, the Supreme Court on Thursday said there was “total moral policing” in Maharashtra and questioned the state government for presuming that all performances by bar girls were obscene.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said the concept and perception of obscenity had changed with time and referred to how filmmakers earlier desisted from showing lovemaking and kissing scenes on screen and shots of birds and flowers were used to convey the message. It said the state had a right to regulate dance bars but if authorities acted with the mindset that dance performances were obscene, then no bar would be allowed to operate.
The bench said it would have been reasonable had the state granted approval for some bars but it was not the case and not a single dance bar had been given permission. “So, you have rejected all applications of dance bars for licence. So, it is total moral policing going on in the state. Under the pretext of obscene dance, you are not giving licence to anyone,” the bench said.
Justifying the stringent conditions to get dance bar licence which included ban on serving liquor and installing CCTV cameras, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade and Maharashtra’s standing counsel Nishant Katneshwarkar said the law was framed to prevent obscenity. They added that no family with traditional values would allow their members to visit such places.
They argued that obscenity had to be judged based on society’s perception. The bench, however, said perception changed with time. It said live-in relationships were recognised nowadays and even parents accepted such arrangements. Referring to the Domestic Violence Act, the bench said even the law now recognised live-in relationships.
The court was hearing a plea of dance bar owners challenging the validity of Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women Act, 2016, which set stringent conditions for the business.
As per the new law, liquor would not be served in the area where bar girls danced. The bars would be allowed to operate only between 6.30 pm and 11.30 pm. Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan and Nikhil Nayyar, appearing for the bar owners, said the restrictions were imposed to prevent them from carrying out their business.
They said the new rules violated the SC judgement which held that it was a fundamental right of bar owners and bar girls to operate and work in such establishments. In its affidavit, the state government said dance bars were being used to run prostitution rackets in many cases and it was duty bound to stop such activities.
One of the provisions of the 2016 notified Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016 says that licenses would not be approved if the dances were derogatory to the dignity of women and were likely to deprave, corrupt or injure public morality. This, bar owners, say is subject to misuse by authorities.
The judge agreed with Naphade the term obscenity has not been defined, but said the contours of what would be depraved and corrupt have changed.