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Last Updated: Friday, 20 August, 2004, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Bombay's barmaids stage protest
Bombay bar protest
The bar workers say they are being treated unfairly
Thousands of bar girls in the Indian city of Bombay (Mumbai) have protested against alleged police harassment.

The demonstration follows a major police crackdown in which bars were raided and bar girls arrested in a drive against obscenity.

Most of the city's beer bars hire girls to dance for their clients. The bars are not illegal, but police say some act as a front for prostitution.

Correspondents say most of the city's 60,000 bar girls joined the protest.

Closure threat

"All we are doing is dancing to entertain people. Even women in music videos do that. But you don't say anything to them," one bar girl, Geeta Shetty, told the BBC.

The police extort money from us. They treat the women who dance in bars like animals. This needs to stop
Manjit Singh
Bombay bar owners' association

The girls usually dance to Bollywood songs in colourful dresses, and customers often throw money at them.

The girls were joined in Friday's protest by beer bar owners and other male employees. The bar owners said they would shut down if the police crackdown continued.

"The police extort money from us. They treat the women who dance in bars like animals. This needs to stop," chief of the bar owners' association, Manjit Singh, said.

The 1,200 licensed beer bars in Bombay are seen as an integral part of the city's nightlife.

The dancers, the subject of a recent popular Bollywood film, have protested against their working conditions in the past. Many say they have no choice but to work in the bars because of financial reasons.

Reshma, Bombay bar worker
Reshma and other women say they have to earn money

In 1998, they took to the streets after a row over tips and working hours.

The barmaids alleged that bar-owners often keep back a sizeable amount of the tips earned by dancing girls and waitresses - and beat them up if they seek better jobs elsewhere.

They also protested against the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena party, then in power in the city, which introducing the ban on late-night shifts for women in 1997.

When protests threatened to snowball into a major controversy, the authorities struck back by ordering the closure of all pubs and bars before midnight.

The decision was criticised for taking much of the fun out of the famed Bombay nightlife.

Bombay's 'dancing' bars raided
25 Feb 04  |  South Asia
Bombay bars offer 'Bollywood' girls
29 Oct 03  |  South Asia
Gay Bombay comes out
19 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Bombay barmaids call time
25 Dec 98  |  South Asia

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