Penumbral Visions: Neo-Liberalism, Sexual Commerce and the Case of Indian Bar Dancing
39 Pages Posted: 20 May 2011
Date Written: July 30, 2009
Of late, the Indian state has adopted an abolitionist stance towards two forms of female commercial sexual labour - sex work and bar dancing. This article focuses on bar dancing and argues that although the judicial overturning of the ban against bar dancing in the Indian state of Maharashtra has been celebrated by feminists as a triumph of women’s right to livelihood over patriarchal demands of women’s sexual morality, the judgment is predicated precisely on a sharp distinction between morally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ female labour, namely, bar dancing and sex work, respectively. This is ironic given the striking sociological similarities between the two sectors, the social construction of the stigmatised sexual labour performed therein and the levels of state abuse inflicted against both sets of sexual workers. The article considers the usefulness of contemporary Western feminist vocabularies on the proliferation of sexual commerce under conditions of late capitalism in order to explain the increased tolerance for bar dancing on the part of both the judiciary and certain sections of the Indian feminist community. The article surmises that such tolerance has less to do with the totalising logic of neo-liberalism than a range of disparate factors including the distinct political economies of abolitionism pertaining to both bar dancing and sex work and the modes of resistance that female workers have offered in response. The article concludes by arguing that prospects for redistributive law reform for all sexual workers are dim unless the arbitrary legal distinctions drawn between markets in sexual labour are overcome.
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