Women's Rights Hangover: In Mumbai, Male-Only Bars Still Exist

Man bartending at a famous pub in South Mumbai
Man bartending at a famous pub in South Mumbai
Abhilasha Sinha

MUMBAI — As far as Indian cities go, Mumbai is probably the most free-spirited of them all. The streets are bustling till the wee hours, the people are generally more friendly (believe me — I'm from New Delhi) and, as a woman, I feel safe when I go out to restaurants and bars. Provided they let me in, that is.

On what was a normal Thursday evening in Lower Parel, a colleague and I decided to go for a walk after work before we headed home. Passing a resto-bar, we decided to duck in for a quick drink. The establishment, Sanjay Restaurant & Bar, is on NM Joshi Marg. And it's a bit of a dive, though no more so than other dive bars I've been to. It was also full of men, and only men, which is par for the course in places like that.

That I was the only women ordering a drink there didn't surprise me, in other words. What did surprise me was that, a few minutes after we sat down at a table, a waiter came by telling us to leave. At first I began fumbling for my driver's license to prove that I'm of legal drinking age. But the problem had nothing to do with age.

"Madam, ladies are not allowed here, that's the rule," the server said. "You will have to leave."

After a few minutes of indignant sputtering, and muttering "Are you freaking kidding me" to my (male) colleague, he told me that's just how it is in many Bombay bars. The creep factor of the bar increased in proportion to my indignation, so I decided that we would leave and not create a scene. Still, as we exited I asked the bar proprietor if this was true. "Yes," he said. "Ladies are not allowed because things get troublesome then. They're a nuisance."

We live in a world that at least maintains a veneer of respecting women.

I was gobsmacked. I have been called many things over the years, but "nuisance" certainly isn't one of them. I then asked him who is responsible for things getting out of hand? The women? Or the disgusting men who harass the women at bars, thus causing trouble? He looked at me as if I was a mildly irritating fly that had been buzzing around his ears.

It's 2018.

That means we live in a world that at least maintains a veneer of respecting women — through various ladies night events, for example. "Sorry for screwing your gender over for millennia, but look! Here's a FREE watered down cocktail to make it all better."

Writer Abhilasha Sinha traveling in Calcutta — Photo: Abhilasha Sinha/Instagram

It also means that we're no longer in an era of when women are barred from entering a bar in broad daylight, and in a metro city no less. Or so I imagined. Because at Sanjay Restaurant & Bar, that's exactly what they do. And it's not the only Mumbai establishment with such a rule. Aparna Restaurant in Sion has a reputation for not serving women. Aishwarya Resto-Bar is another one. They won't take orders from a woman. Literally. They only write down your order if it's given to them by a man at the table.

In fact, nearly every bar outside a station in Mumbai will deny entry to women — and claim that it's for their own safety. And sadly, they're not wrong, because there are rowdy men drinking at these bars, and more often than not, they'll leer at women. Outnumbered 10 to 1, the women will then feel uncomfortable, scared and angry, and will most likely express outrage at the harassment. Several of the male drinkers will then be asked to leave by the authorities, because "Madam created a scene." And of course, business suffers.

We are slowly and steadily breaking into spaces that until recently, had been exclusively male.

What would any seedy bar owner do in that situation? Those men, and others like them, are his key customers. Their daily dip into alcoholism keeps the proprietor afloat, and the money he charges them for broken glasses could possibly pay for another bar itself. Should he compromise their unwavering patronage for the occasional woman who's brave enough to saunter into his bar? Or should he just ban all women entirely because he knows that sooner or later, one will get harassed?

There is much more context here, of course. Women and alcohol have been a sore point in society for years and years. Women and late nights. Women and streets. Women and temples. Women and workplaces. Women and crematoriums. Women and any space really that men have claimed for themselves.

We are slowly and steadily breaking into spaces that until recently, had been exclusively male. And the men aren't happy about it. It's a small thing, this. Being denied entry to an institution because of your gender. But it's f***ing 2018. And still, we're supposed to just be cool with it all. Brush it off. We're asked to just get over it and go somewhere else — until we realize we're denied entry to so much more because of our gender or class or sexuality or religion.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and until we as a collective raise our voices against subtle exclusion and discrimination by barging into every one of these bars in angry hordes, nothing will change. Oh, and by the way, I'll be going back to that bar for that G&T I wanted. Let's see them stop me.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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