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Labours in Vice or Virtue? Neo-liberalism, Sexual Commerce, and the Case of Indian Bar Dancing

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Of late, the Indian state has adopted an abolitionist stance towards sex work and bar dancing. This article argues that although in the Indian state of Maharashtra, the judicial overturning of the ban against bar dancing 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 on a sharp distinction between morally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ female labour, namely, bar dancing and sex work. This is ironic given their striking sociological similarities and the stigmatization and levels of state abuse inflicted against both. The article considers the usefulness of the totalizing logic of neo-liberalism for explaining the increased judicial and feminist tolerance for bar dancing. The article argues that prospects for redistributive law reform for all sexual workers are dim unless the arbitrary legal distinctions drawn between markets in female sexual labour are overcome.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, England., Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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