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Rescued girls support ban on dance bars

Rescued girls support ban on dance bars

Author: Kiran Uchil
Publication: Afternoon Despatch & Courier
Date: April 29, 2005

Introduction: Dance bars are a front for prostitution, say these minors, who were saved by the police and have opted for dignified means of earning a livelihood

"The dance bars should be shut," says 17-year-old Reshma Gaikwad, without blinking an eyelid "There is no doubt about it," she adds.  Reshma has reasons to say so.  She was around 14 years when she was rescued from a dance bar in south Mumbai by the Social Service Branch (SSB) of the Mumbai Police in the year 2003.

"Main khush hoon ki is 'line' se nikal payii hoon (I am happy to be out of this line)," the pride in her voice is unmistakable.  Today she works in a cloth store as an over the counter salesgirl.  "I earn a salary of Rs. 1000.  Part of which I spend on myself and the remaining, I save to send to my parents in my native place."

Although Reshma was in the dance bar for five days, she says, "The time that I spent in the dance bar has. made me wiser.  "Jitna bhi main uss haadse ko bhoolane ki koshish karti hoon, mere dimag se nikalta hi nahin. I do not like anyone reminding me about my past," she, complains but she maintains that the issue of bar girls compels her to break her silence.

"I was tricked and pushed into this profession," she recalls.  Under the pretext of taking her to the doctor, she was instead 'trafficked' by her neighbour to Mumbai from her hometown near Pune.  "That incident changed my life completely." Her eyes are moist with tears.  She says that if she were not forced into this profession, she would have completed her schooling and entered college and fulfilled her dream of becoming a police officer. "Nonetheless, I am happy to lead a dignified life."

Seema S (22) had no choice but to become a bar dancer to support her family.  Her sister was a bar dancer too.  She still continues to earn money by providing 'pleasure' to her customers.  Seema, too, was rescued by the police in 2003 from a dance bar at Kurla.  She is very vocal about her support for the ban on dance bars.  "Ya line madhey kahi naahin aahey. (This line has got nothing for the girls)," says Seema.  But she opines, "The government should rehabilitate all the girls who will be affected by this ban." She suggests that the government could introduce pension scheme for the bar dancers.

She has completed her beautician's course and today works in a beauty parlour in the suburbs.  "Mind you, it is not a 'parlour' of 'that' kind," she says and adds, "I do mehendi, facials, pedicure, manicures, and also take orders."

Both Reshma and Seema never knew dancing.  But Supriya Tansing is, however, different from the duo, in the sense that she halls from the community of dancers called 'Nat' community.  "Supriya's parents sent her to a dance bar," says Sindhu, as she is referred to by the girls, a social worker with Prerana, an NGO that works for the actual and potential victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Having followed the case of Supriya since the time she was rescued in 2002, Sindhu says with conviction that the 17-year-old girl is happy that she is out of the filthy dance bar and earns a decent living by working as an over-the-counter salesgirl."

"One thing, however, is sure that the number of minor girls in dance bars is more than it is portrayed as." To prove her point, Sindhu cites, "Seventy-four girls in the age group of 14-18 were rescued between 2002 to 2004 from different dance bars spread across the whole of Mumbai." This information has been gathered from the police raids and Deonar special rehabilitation centre.

All the girls, namely Reshma, Seema and Supriya are victims of sexual exploitation.  "The 'line' is not limited only to dancing.  The dance bar I was rescued from had a mezzanine floor where four other girls including myself would dance.  Below it was a discs cum pick-up joint.  We were also forced to 'please' our clients.  But only regular and high-paying clients would come to us," points out Reshma.

"There are plenty of minors in the dance bar line," says Reshma.  "The neighbour who brought me to Mumbai was involved in a big racket of trafficking minor bar girls. I learnt this when, the neighbour told me that two more girls from my native place would join me to give 'company'," she adds.

"Why should the girls be deprived of their right to education, health, recreation and development?" asks an agitated Priti Patkar, founder member and executive secretary of Prerana. Patkar is supporting the ban on the dance bars.

Patkar feels that dance is merely an excuse but the dance bars mainly doubly up an prostitution centers and pick-up joints. "There is no dearth of girls who come from disadvantaged communities and have been deprived of their rights and forced to move out in search in jobs. In such a scenario, there will be people taking advantage of their plight and promise jobs. But these girls end up in dance bars and eventually into prostitution."

A coalition of voluntary organisations, committed to uphold the rights of children and women in vulnerable situations, has come in support of the Deputy CM's decision. A signature campaign will be held at 14 railway stations in Mumbai and at Thane, Dombivli and Kalyan.

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