BANGALORE, India (AFP) – Women hired as bartenders in the southeastern Indian IT hub of Bangalore must wear "decent" clothes including long-sleeved shirts and trousers, according to new state government guidelines approved by a top court.
The government of Karnataka state issued the guidelines after bar and restaurant owners took legal action to try to stop police shutting down licensed premises that employed women on the grounds of indecency.
The High Court in the state capital Bangalore ordered police Tuesday to allow the hiring of women as bartenders after accepting the state government's dress guidelines.
"We have submitted to the Karnataka High Court a set of guidelines to be strictly followed by owners of bars and restaurants employing women to serve their customers," a state home department official told AFP.
Barwomen should be aged 21 years or above and wear full-length trousers and full-length shirt or T-shirt with or without a blazer or a salwar kameez (a Punjabi suit) to "prevent indecent displays of their body".
The guidelines are legally binding, with police given the power to strip bars of their licences if female employees do not follow the new dress code.
They are the latest example of what critics decry as moral policing in Bangalore and the state of Karnataka, home to a booming professional middle class.
In 2009 Hindu extremists attacked women in a fashionable bar in the nearby city of Mangalore, accusing them of "debauched behaviour" for drinking and smoking.
They followed up with a warning that any couples courting on Valentine's Day risked being frog-marched to the nearest temple and forced to marry.
The legal action or petition was taken by the Bangalore Ladies' Working Bar and Restaurants Owners' Association.
"The High Court has directed the city police to allow licensed bars and restaurants to hire women bartenders in accordance with the guidelines and see how they operate over the next three months," the official said.
A lawyer for the association, R. Gopalakrishna, said the owners would comply with the guidelines but the new rules imposed additional costs on bars and restaurants employing women.
"The guidelines will add to the operational cost of running a bar and restaurant, as owners have to not only pay salary to the lady bartenders, but also provide a decent dress and arrange for their transport from home and back to ensure their safety and security," Gopalakrishna told AFP.
The guidelines also ban obscene behaviour by customers towards the women. They also prevent the hiring of men, women and transgenders for dancing or any other form of entertainment in bars and restaurants, the official said.