Islamic Voice
Ramadan/Shawwal 1422
December 2001
Volume 14-12 No:180

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Left With No Choice
Fire and Fury!

Left With No Choice

M. Hanif Lakdawala looks into the dark interiors of the lives of Muslim Bar Girls of Mumbai and the sleazy underside of their trade.

A long room with a low ceiling, full of tables leaving hardly any space to move. Subdued lamps cast a soft red light in the semi-darkness; young girls wearing colourful traditional dresses, dancing to the loud blare of Indipop. Welcome to any one of these countless dance bars in Mumbai. Regardless of their location, most bars look the same, only some are seamier. So, what happens inside dance bars (ladies’ bars, as they are popularly known)? The road to this kind of fulfillment is paved with money.

These bars encourage customers to fork out money - whether to the dancers or the waiters for bringing cigars and drinks.

And what about the girls? Most of the dancers are 16 to 30 years old. There is a marked difference between their neat, festive appearance and the lustful male audience with half-open shirts and naked feet in dirty sandals. A random survey by this Islamic Voice correspondent reveals that a substantial percentage of these bar girls are from the Muslim community. According to the sources in the trade, approximately 35-40 per cent of the bar girls are Muslim.

Rehana Shah, 27, is in the profession for the last eight years. Living in a two-bedroom flat at Amrut Nagar, in Mumbra, near Mumbai, Rehana found herself on the streets after the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai. Before the riots, earnings of her two elder brothers were the mainstay of the family. The children had been orphaned in their childhood with the father’s death. Rehana’s mother was earning by doing odd jobs. During the riots, one of her brother was killed in police firing, and the other detained under the TADA. Unable to pay the rents, the family had to vacate their room in a chawl in South Mumbai. “Since I was uneducated, I was unemployable. I was advised by a friend to work in a bar,” said Rehana. “Initially, I was very ashamed of my profession. But now I have adjusted and satisfied as I am funding the education of two of my sisters. At least their future is secure”. When asked whether she would discontinue working at the bar if provided with a decent job, Rehana nodded for acceptance.

A visit to Malavni, a Western suburb of Mumbai, provided occasion to meet several of the Muslim girls working in the bars. Sabana works in a beer bar for the last three months. She was forced to join the profession after her mother, a domestic servant developed TB and was hospitalised. “I was left with no choice as we were in urgent need of money. No other job provides you with instant money needed for emergency. Now I earn a very decent pay packet everyday”, she said. Sabana has no brothers. Her father deserted them seven years ago.

The just released Chandini Bar, directed by Madhur Bhandarkar and starring Tabu, is a highly convincing paean to Mumbai’s beer bar dancers. Bhandarkar has etched to relief, the colourful life of these Bar Girls on the dance floor and the dark, dreary life behind the stage. Bhandarkar says: “They are very emotional and religious. They are people like us, with the same ethics and feelings. Many of the bar girls were in tears at a special screening I had for them. One of them said, ‘We know now that we should never be weak, but independent like Mumtaz’ (role played by Tabu in Chandini Bar). Some of them objected to the scene where a bar girl is ordered to go to (service) the police, it didn’t happen in their bar.” Sabiha, 24, is not very happy in the profession. Married at the age of 17, she was deserted by her husband three years ago. Saddled with three daughters, Sabiha experimented with several odd jobs, but did not feel satisfied till she arrived at the threshold of a bar. “Although I earn lots of money, but I am very worried about my daughters’ future. Once I have sufficient savings, I will quit the profession for good and go back to my native place in Akola”, said Sabiha.

The community is busy with petty issues and non-issues related with fiqh and no one from the community is even willing to discuss the rehabilitation of these Muslim women who are unfortunate victims of circumstances.

According to Sabiha, majority of the Muslim bar girls join the profession as they are uneducated, deserted by their husband or their parents have died and could not find a decent employment, which can pay for their basic needs. “We have formed a group of 15, all are Muslims and come to the rescue of anyone vulnerable to sexual exploitation by the customers. This way we are able to protect ourselves”, informs Sabiha.

Saira, 21 another group member, joined the profession last year. She eloped from her village in Bihar with her boyfriend Rehan, who was employed in Mumbai and had promised to marry her. After spending couple of days with her, Rehan never came back. “With no one to help me in Mumbai and afraid to go back to my village, I spoke to the receptionist of the hotel where I was put up. She introduced me to Sabiha and I had no option but to accept her offer.” she said. Bars with dancing girls may have become an inseparable feature of the city’s sleazy nightlife and a subject for Hindi films, but the rules governing them are archaic, says a booklet, Problems of women working in Mumbai’s beer bars by Shubhada Chaukar. It recommends several regulations for these ‘ladies service bars’, as they are called, in the interests of barmaids as well of society. Chaukar contends that there is no sanction in law for ‘ladies service bars’ and they operate because of the deficiencies in the ‘rules for licensing and controlling places of public amusement (other than cinema) and performance for public amusements including mela and tamasha’. “No changes have been made in this law since it was enacted in 1960.

In 1986, only 24 hotels had ‘performance licenses,’ but in 1997, the number shot up to 206", says Chaukar, adding that most such bars operated without a licence. She also observes that there seem to be no restrictions on restaurants turning into ‘ladies service bars’. Tips from patrons are the only earnings for these girls who are not paid any salary. In fact, the girls give 30 to 40 per cent of their earnings to the bar-owner for allowing them to perform in his establishment. According to the study, the dancers earn up to Rs 3,000 a night. Chaukar who interviewed 50 bar girls found that only 15 per cent of them refused the advances of the bar’s patrons, while the rest either played along with them or even went to bed with them after the show. Interestingly, 14 per cent of the women working in such bars were locals, while Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal contributed 20 per cent each. Delhi and Rajasthan accounted for 10 per cent each. According to police sources, there are around 2,000 such bars in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane, employing over one-lakh women as waitresses, singers and dancers. Even Ulhasnagar has 35. Ironically, Muslim women who are uneducated and without support from the family or society are dragged into the profession.

We as the community are more engrossed with petty issues and with the non-issues related with fiqh. Are we present to the reality? Even some readers may question as to why such an article is published and some may turn a blind eye and just brush off saying such will be the state when one deviates from religion. Here we are not concerned who is right and who is wrong, but are we responsible and are we willing to take some actions to rehabilitate such victims and also see what would it take for us to provide to protect our sisters enter into such haram trades like this and other trades like call girls and forced prostitutions.

Let each one of us ponder over and look within and question one self, am I the Ambassador of Allah? If not who am I ? Let us be clear on this point as the world outside relates to us in a different way.


Fire and Fury!

Malegaon was burnt, lives were lost, and Maharashtra once again tops the chart of communal tensions in the country with the culprits going scot-free

M H Lakdawala

A joint fact-finding committee constituted by the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana (LHS) and the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), in its preliminary report has criticised the police handling of the communal violence in Malegaon in Maharashtra’s Nasik district. According to the report, a peaceful anti-war protest was suppressed by the State. It also alleged that there was complete communalisation of the police.

The probe team, which visited the riot-affected areas of Malegaon and Satana towns and the villages of Patne, Ajang, Wadner (Khakhurdi), Nampur, Talavde and Antapur, said rumours spread by political parties and communal organizations were responsible for the spread of the riots. The police reaction was brutal and one-sided, rioters belonging to Hindu communal organisations were allowed to move about freely, the report alleged. The committee demanded punitive action against the policemen who acted communally and provoked further tensions.

The two NGOs had sent a team to the powerloom town to investigate the riots. The “fact finding report” released by these NGOs blames the police categorically for man-handling a youth first and later opening fire. At 2.15 p.m. on October 26, some youngsters outside Jama Masjid in Malegaon were distributing handbills in Urdu which said “Be Indian Buy Indian.’’ Though there was nothing objectionable about the contents of the handbill, the SRP constables seized a copy from a boy near the Jama Masjid and dragged him towards their van. The committee said it was reported that no sooner had the crowd been chased out of the Jama Masjid area that a huge group headed by leaders of the Shiv-Sena-spawned Janata Raja Mitra Mandal arrived and staged a demonstration to protest the damage to the Navaratri pandal. Soon this crowd moved towards the Sangameshwar Masjid, destroying shops in front of it. The numbers swelled as it went along leaving a trail of selective destruction in their path, the report said.

Most of the people whom the probe team interviewed felt that had the police not suppressed the distribution of the pamphlet and had they not resorted to a lathi-charge so insensitively in response to the demand of the crowd to release the boy who was dragged to the police van, the subsequent events would not have taken place.

Many Muslims the probe team met said that when they rang up the police station for help, the policeman would ask them their names and on hearing that they were Muslims, disconnected the phone. Some Muslims who lost their shops in the arson and looting complained that even though policemen were present on the scene, they did not stop the destruction.

While in Malegaon town, both Hindus and Muslims suffered loss of property, in the villages, only Muslims were attacked. Muslims are a minority in the villages of Malegaon taluka, Satana, Kalvan and Deola. The probe team was told that from October 27, mobs went on a looting and burning spree from village to village. They mobilised support by spreading rumours that Hindus were being targeted. Most Muslims have not returned to their villages since they fled the attacks. The probe team comprised Vijay Hiremath, advocate, Kannan Srinivasan, researcher, Sakharam Sathe and Jennifer Coutinho, members, CPDR and Sanober Keshwaar and Angel Mary, members, LHS. The State Minorities Commission also has squarely blamed the police for the Malegon riots, saying they failed to gauge the gravity of the situation when former MLA Nihal Ahmad took out a morcha, which led to the eruption of riots.

A team of the commission, led by its president Mohammad Khandwani, surveyed the strife-torn town. Khandwani said the morcha, taken out by Ahmed on October 19, aggravated the situation in the town.

A seven-member committee has been formed under the presidentship of the Nasik district collector to ensure peace among the Hindus and Muslims in the town. Khandwani told Islamic Voice that the committee would include representatives of the police, civic officers and members of non-political bodies. An emergency fund would be raised under the guidance of the collector to help those affected by the riots.

There was a major exodus of Muslims from the seven villages, which had no history of riot. These people are now living in lanes and by lanes of nearby towns.

Veteran socialist and president of the state unit of the Janata Dal (Secular) Nihal Ahmed has denied charges that he was instrumental in inciting communal violence in Malegaon. Ahmed has instead blamed the local administration, which, he says, is in cahoots with the Congress MLA from Malegaon, Shaikh Rashid, for the madness in Malegaon.

The present situation reflects poorly on the local police and the administration. They were unable to control the mob when it went wild after a scuffle over an SRPF constable. “The entire issue is a political game plan by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party leadership in the state to malign me. They are under the illusion that such vilification will eventually lead to my marginalisation,’’ said Ahmed With Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh drawing flak from his own partymen for the handling of the Malegaon riots, the Congress has gone in for an extensive damage control exercise.

Senior party leaders Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes and Ahmed Patel, who visited the area for an on-the-spot assessment of unprovoked police firing that caused the riots, will submit their report to party president Sonia Gandhi shortly. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine is trying to cash in on the incidents, and the VHP and Bajrang Dal tried to hold a public meeting in the riot-torn town. The Congress leadership has now asked the state unit to activate itself to counter the opposition. As a first step, the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) has decided to set up special camps in the town, send out teams to the neighbouring areas and also organise peace meetings.

Anthony Samy, secretary of the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana says: “Nobody has talked of this chronology, that it was the pro-Sena Janata Raj which made the situation riot-prone. Then, there were many rumours about women being raped. But our team found no evidence of this”. There was a major exodus of Muslims from the seven villages, which had no history of riot. These people are now living in lanes and by lanes of nearby towns.

In a brief study of the deeper psychological malaise, the report says Malegaon has a Muslim population of 6.5 lakh. Most of them are Ansari Muslims who are weavers. The others are Dakhani Muslims, who speak Marathi.

Ansari Muslims own 90 per cent of powerlooms in Malegaon, but the loom workers are mainly Dakhani Muslims and Hindus from nearby villages like Soyegaon and Dyanegaon. The traders in Malegaon are usually Gujaratis and Marwaris who supply raw materials to loom owners and buy finished products from them. The economic slump has had its impact on the powerloom industry, which now operates only up to 50 per cent now. For the past eight months, says the report, this has caused a distance between the Hindus and the Muslims, with each community believing the other to be responsible for its problems. Malegaon was burnt, lives were lost and Maharashtra once again tops the chart of communal tensions in the country. Ironically, politicians of all hues are busy scoring points over each other over the dead bodies of innocent victims. Once again, the culprit seems to go scot-free and justice denied to the innocent victims.


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