Moral Policing or Moral Terrorism
Former Consultant, World Health Organisation
April has been a busy month for the self-proclaimed moral watchdogs
of Indian society to reinforce restrictions on basic freedom and
rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
On 31st March
2005, the state government of Maharashtra ordered the immediate
closure of dance bars all over the state, barring Mumbai. There
are reportedly 75,0001 women working in the dance bars of Maharashtra,
where customers are served alcohol while the women dance to the
latest film music. The Government requires these dance bars to
obtain an entertainment licence before they start operating.
While the Maharashtra
Government has defended its action purely on legal grounds, saying
that a lot of these bars dont have licences, it is well
known that the bars have been closed as they are seen as morally
corrupting the fabric of society. What has conspicuously been
overlooked is the human rights of the women who join these bars
to earn not only a living for themselves but also for their families.
There has been
no directive placed on the rehabilitation of the employed women
in the bars. These women come from all over India, Bangladesh
and Nepal and have little or no formal education. They are either
tricked into the profession or coerced due to economic reasons.
Those willingly employed dont see it as a permanent career
path but a means to earn quick money.
has been on the rise in India. Sections of the civil society have
demanded explanations from the government on this latest move,
some even organising rehabilitation measures. The greater challenge
however, is to counter the societys stigmatised attitude
towards the women. What is horrifying is that these attitudes
have fertile breeding grounds in the minds of high profile members
of the government who have been democratically elected. The Indian
Express, a leading national daily, reported Maharashtra Home Minister
Mr. R.R. Patil making comments to the effect that women employed
at these bars were a security threat to the state and to the country
as a whole.
threat looming over the country as specified by the leaders
of the country has also extended itself to sex work. Like sex
workers, the profession of the women employed at bars is not legalised
leaving them highly vulnerable. They therefore have no support
from law-enforcing authorities and receive no health or other
benefits in case they come to harm of any kind. From time to time,
there have been reports of rescue operations conducted
by the state. This may be termed as good intention if only one
assumes that the sex workers see it as being rescued, however
they may face societal ire and abuse. Methods used are rescue
operations are also questionable with little or no follow up on
the women who have been rescued.
project in the eastern part of Calcutta, West Bengal, India is
often cited as a successful model case for health workers who
counsel/train sex workers battling sexually transmitted diseases
among sex workers. The organisers explain: From the very
beginning there was no attempt to rescue or rehabilitate
sex workers. Their capabilities as human beings and workers were
recognised and respected. The basic approach of the Sonagachi
Project can be summed up as the three Rs: Respect,
Reliance and Recognition.
Women who are
working in dance bars being declared a security threat. Sex workers
being counted as beggars by the Indian census because their profession
is not legalised. It is time we determine, who is more out of
line the law maker or the law breaker.