‘The Cure is Worse than the Disease’: Mumbai Dance Bars, and New Forms of Justice in the History of Female Public Performers in India

Anna Morcom

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In 2005, a ban on dancing in beer bars was brought by the State of Maharashtra targeting the exploitation of bar dancers and the damage to society and public morality that dance bars were seen to engender. In 2006, the ban was successfully contested in the Bombay High Court, and in July 2013, this judgement was upheld in the Supreme Court. In this article, I explore the historical context to the bar girls, the ban and the court cases, and examine the kinds of justice that the court rulings represent. The dance bar ban constituted an almost exact repeat of the anti-nautch campaign of nineteenth-century India that left courtesans and devadasis marginalised from classical performing arts, and the majority of bar girls were in fact from courtesan and dancing girl communities. I also discuss the parallel history of marginalisation of transgender female erotic performers in India. I combine an interdisciplinary approach encompassing expertise on Indian dance and ethnomusicology as well as broader work on South Asia, modernity, gender, law and development. The article synthesises ethnography on the contemporary situation of India’s excluded erotic performers and changing patterns of work and social position and the deeper history of their circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-512
Number of pages14
JournalCultural and Social History
Issue number4
Early online date22 May 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2017

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