Editorials

Bihar and Odisha Excise Act 1915 – Is It Archaic and Discriminatory?

Should women in Odisha be allowed to choose their own profession?

A woman recently moved the Orissa high court, challenging the state government’s rule of not allowing women to work as dancers and singers in bars. Her petition is likely to be heard on June 4. The woman singer approached a bar-cum-restaurant for job, but she was denied employment because of the law.

Three weeks ago, the excise department announced closure of six bars in Bhubaneswar for employing female dancers and singers in violation of Section 25 of Bihar and Odisha Excise Act 1915. The law prohibits employment of women in bars.

Anushika Pradhan tending bar at the Dublin Pub in the Maurya Sheraton Hotel in New Delhi, India

Anushika Pradhan tending bar at the Dublin Pub in the Maurya Sheraton Hotel in New Delhi

Earlier, several women, who used to work as dancers, singers, receptionists and accountants in the six bar-cum-restaurants, had expressed their resentment over the ban.

“Women are allowed to work in bars in many states. Dance bars reopened in Mumbai following a Supreme Court ruling last year. Bars should not be governed by the archaic Bihar and Odisha Excise Act,” said another former woman employee.

Discrimination against Female Workforce?

The Kerala government recently enforced a ban on women being employed in bars so that they would not be “exposed to drunken brawls”. Karnataka, in a similar move in 2007, banned women from working night shifts in hotels, shops, and tourism offices. Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh also do not allow women to serve liquor in bars and restaurants, citing an archaic excise law dating back to 1914.

India’s antiquated central labour laws also bar women from working the graveyard shift in factories. Are safety concerns being used as an excuse to shackle the work rights of women? Or is it exploitative of organizations to demand that women work late hours?

More pertinently, is this kind of legal discrimination narrowing work opportunities for women or forcing them to drop out of the workforce? The National Sample Survey Organisation recorded a near 10% decline in female participation in the workforce between 2005 and 2010. Census 2011 also recorded stagnant female participation in the workforce in a decade — only one in five women said they were employed.

The Gujarat High Court, for instance, recently declared the ban violation of constitutional freedoms and permitted women employees to work from 11pm to 5am in the state, but employers have to provide safeguards. The apex court had in 2007 overturned Punjab’s ban on women serving liquor, but the restrictions were lifted only in Delhi.

Should women in Odisha be allowed to choose their own profession?

Courtesy: The Times of India

 

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