In the High Court of Kerala 1984 Cri LJ 745, 1984 KLT 276 Original Petition (O.P.) Nos. 7675 and 8271 of 1983 Appellant K.P Mohammed Respondent State of Kerala & ors. Date of Judgement 1st February,1984 Bench Hon’ble Justice K. Bhaskaran, Justice P. Balakrishnan Menon
Dance Bars in India have always been in contention for a show of indecency and being a hub of obscenity. The stigma regarding the same has always continued and remains to be a matter of shame to the society. In this case, early on in the ’80s,the legality of Cabaret bars being open for a show of obscenity being carried out was questioned; where it was subsequently ruled against the general notion of the society that until there was any nudity, artists and customers maintained a healthy distance and the dancers are not exploited, there is nothing wrong that is being carried out by such hotels and restaurants.
Two writ petitions were heard simultaneously in this hearing of the Court. Both the petitions concern are regarding the right to perform cabaret dances in restaurants; though the nature of reliefs sought is different.
In Petition No. 7675, the petitioner K.P Mohammed, President of All India Lohia Vichar Manch and Member, Cabaret Virudha Samithi, Calicut, through the writ of mandamus, prays before the court to direct Respondent 1, State of Kerala and respondent 2, Corporation of Calicut, to ban the performance of cabaret dance in various restaurants across the city of Calicut.
In Petition No. 8271, filed by Managing Director, M/s. Queens Restaurant (Private) Ltd. Calicut, to direct the police officers of the city of Calicut, through the writ of mandamus, to refrain from interfering in the petitioner’s right to serve the needs of his adult customers who purchase cabaret coupons for admission to the hall exclusively reserved for them.
Laws and Statutory provisions concerned:
- Article 32 of the Constitution, 1950
- Section 294 of the IPC, 1860
Issue involved :
Whether cabaret dances should be banned completely or should be permitted without any restrictions whatsoever?
Contentions raised :
The counsel for the petitioner in the petition no. 8271 and subsequently a 4th respondent in the other petition submitted that it was not his intention to have any performance of nudity or performance of obscenity in his restaurant.
The counsel for the 6th respondent, in the petition 7675, representative of Cabaret Artists’ Association submitted that the members of the Association had no intention to give any performance which could be characterized as one of nudity or obscenity.
After a brief discourse about the origin of Cabaret and holding the respondents to their undertaking before the court and would refrain from staging or causing to stage any performance which would be objectionable being obscene or vulgar tending to corrupt the minds of the young men, the court ruled that cabaret in itself is not in any way obnoxious if understood in the correct sense in which it ought to be understood. The Court stated that the performance of cabaret dance devoid of nudity and obscenity, judged according to the standards indicated in the discourse, is permissible, and is not in any way liable to be banned or prevented.
In words of Permanent Edition, Volume VI page 1, Cabaret was thus defined as a cafe or restaurant where patrons are entertained by performers who dance and sing after the practice of certain French taverns’. There could be no objection to hotels and restaurants entertaining their customers with music and dance so long as it does not become an obscene performance on performance in nudity. It was noted that the terms decency and morality have wide connotations and are subjective. The court stated that ‘decency’ connotes conformity to standards of good taste and morality. On a sensitive issue like this, the Court would not make a dogmatic approach, as the concept of ‘decency’ and ‘morality’ are not static, and are bound to change from place to place, from time to time, from people to people, and from age to age. The Court’s concern and anxiety should only be to prevent the exhibition at public places of performances which are immodest and indecent judged by the standards of our country and or our times.
After this ruling, the business of Dance bars in cities of Cochin and Calicut increased manifold and even the roadside shops converted into such dance bars. The progressive ruling showed quite a different side where the negative aspects of it came out really evidently and the hotels had even started staging live sex shows because of the newly created market competition. The bars eventually became hubs of politics and lead many activists to raise their voices against the contended insult to womanhood and to Indian culture. Eventually, these clubs saw an end because of the various claims that these clubs contravened their licensing terms for places of public amusement and by ‘permitting the performance of dances in an indecent, obscene or vulgar manner’, and that this was ‘giving rise to the exploitation of women’, and that the dancing was both ‘derogatory to the dignity of women’ and were ‘likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals’.[i]
Till 2005, dance bars existed in cities like Bombay after which this business got prohibited after they stopped getting Licenses all together. It was not until recently when in 2017, the Supreme Court in its decision held that dance bars can be opened with licenses and there can be regulation and not total prohibition. This was done by setting aside some provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurants and Bar Rooms, and Protection of Dignity of Women (Working therein) Act, 2016. In the judgment, all regulations regarding manner to be followed in bars, place of locating such bars, timings in which the bars can remain open,etc were given. It was also noted that provisions regarding the regulation of obscenity are present in public policy followed in India and the Indian Penal Code.[ii]
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i] Cabaret Bars- Hub of Obscenity OR a legitimate source of livelihood; by Nithya Balaji <https://www.edtimes.in/cabaret-bars-hub-of-obscenity-or-a-legitimate-source-of-livelihood/ >.
[ii] Supreme Court paves way for reopening of dance bars in Maharashtra – with riders, Updated: Jan 17, 2019, <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/supreme-court-rules-in-favour-of-dance-bars-but-sets-some-conditions/articleshow/67568662.cms>.