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After a decade, Mumbai’s infamous dance bars could reopen

For about two decades, Mumbai’s famous dance bars played many roles: entertainment for the middle class, employment for countless migrant women, a meeting point for the city’s mafia and a smokescreen for alleged prostitution rings.

In 2005, there were some 600 dance bars in India’s financial capital, before the Maharashtra state government passed a law that banned them, as they had “a bad influence on society.”

Some of them continued to operate under police patronage, but most gradually shut down.

In 2013, following appeals by dancers, India’s supreme court quashed the ban. But the Maharashtra government passed another law in 2014 to ban dance bars. That was later challenged by restaurant owners.

On Oct.15, India’s supreme court stayed the ban by the state government, which could potentially allow dance bars to operate once again in the state.

“We are happy with the decision of the court,” Bharat Singh Thakur, president of the Dance Bar Association, told NDTV. “We always respected the dignity of women. We have been running dance bars since 1997, and there was no complaint against us on obscenity.”

“I am glad that the ban is being lifted. I will certainly visit the bars that I used to go to earlier as soon as they come into business again,” Mumbai-based independent filmmaker Tanmay Singh, who frequented dance bars in Mumbai’s Grant Road area before the 2005 ban for a script, told Quartz.

“After dance bars closed down, many bar girls that I knew had to take to prostitution to run their homes. Many others were forced to leave Mumbai and go back to their villages and live in poverty,” Singh said.

The supreme court, while staying the law, also asked the state government to ”bring about measures which should ensure the safety and improve the working conditions of the persons working as bar girls.” Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, has said that his government will appeal against the court’s decision.

Here are a few pictures from 2005 when dance bars were still thriving.

Reuters/Punit Paranjpe
A dancer performs at a bar in Mumbai.
Reuters/Punit Paranjpe
Bar girls perform at a dance bar in Mumbai.
Reuters/Punit Paranjpe
A customer showers money on a dancer at a bar in Mumbai.
AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
A bar girl practices a dance step inside a changing room at Elora Bar in Mumbai.
Reuters/Punit Paranjpe
Men walk past a display at the entrance of a dance bar in Mumbai.
AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
A dance bar girl, far left, joins other staff members for a prayer at Elora Bar, Mumbai.
Reuters/Punit Paranjpe
Indian bar girls perform at a dance bar in Mumbai.
AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
Dance bar owners shout anti-government slogans outside a dance bar during a protest in Mumbai.
AP Photo/Rajesh Nirgude
A dance bar worker holds her child as she listens to a speech along with other workers at a protest rally in Mumbai.
Reuters/Punit Paranjpe
Indian bar girls shout slogans as they participate in a protest in Mumbai.
EPA/STR
Bar girls and supporters demonstrate in Mumbai against the Maharashtra state government’s decision to close dance bars in the state.