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A 104-year-old law stops pubs, bars from hiring women

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GURUGRAM: It may be known as the Millennium City, but Gurugram’s hospitality business is running on an archaic excise policy dating back 104 years. Drafted in 1914, the policy restricts women from being employed in any premises that serve liquor. This point came up during a recent discussion between restaurant and pub owners and excise officials, with many industry players expressing shock no steps have been taken to amend this policy in the 50 years of the state’s existence.

Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 states, “No person who is licensed to sell any liquor or intoxicating drug for consumption on his premises shall, during the hours in which such premises are kept open for business, employ any women in any part of such premises in which such liquor or intoxicating drug is consumed by the public.”

This implies women aren’t just restricted from serving liquor at pubs and bars, they can’t even be employed at hotels or restaurants that sell alcohol. Officials within the excise department confirmed the same. “This Act was constituted 100 years back. It was suitable in those times when involvement of women in such businesses was almost forbidden. However, in today’s scenario, these rules seem irrelevant. We’ll flag such archaic rules to the government and seek amendments as required,” said a senior excise official, requesting anonymity.

According to club and pub owners, it’s time the state government intervened and changed the regressive rules, especially when the government is promoting women’s employment in all fields. “Licenses under Haryana Excise Policy are granted, subject to provisions of Punjab Excise Act, 1914. Some of the clauses suffer from a colonial hangover, and the state hasn’t had the foresight to frame rules with changing times,” said Rahul Singh, president, National Restaurants Association of India.

Most club owners agreed. Inderjit Singh, owner of Prankster and Pra Pra Prank in Gurugram, said, “At a time when we’re constantly talking about gender diversity, such rules have to be changed. Women workers are a great asset in the hospitality industry, as they’re more sincere and hospitable,” he said.

It’s also a matter of employment for hundreds of women. Sources within the industry said when they employ women, they are restricted to managerial or concierge services. Some outlets have started employing women as mixologists and hostesses as well, but seldom are any women employed in the kitchens.

There are around 2,500 people employed in Cyber Hub, another 5,000 in Sector 29. Adding numbers from hospitality outlets in Sohna road and Golf Course Road, the number of people employed by clubs and pubs in the city, excluding hotels, reaches 6,000. According to sources within the industry, at least 25-30% (1,500-2,000) of these are women.
However, some club owners believe while the government does need to update rules in sync with the times, public also needs to be educated. “While it’s important to have rules changed, we also need to be more mature as a society and ensure the safety of women working at such establishments,” said Lalit Ahlawat, who owns multiple clubs and pubs in the city.
“How can we employ men to maintain women’s washrooms?” he asked, flagging a couple of other rules under the old policy, like disbarring of men under 25 from serving alcohol. “Not allowing a fresh graduate of 21, or any women to be employed in a restaurant with license is discriminatory,” added Inderjit Singh.

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