Can't women serve liquor in Kerala?

Representational Image: Andrey Grodz/Unsplash

Ernakulam: The Excise Department of Kerala has registered a case against Harbour View hotel in Kochi for employing women to serve liquor at its bar, sparking a controversy.

According to legal experts, this decision is a gross violation of a High Court order.

While the present case has been registered under Rule 27A of the Kerala Foreign Liquor Rule, a Kerala High Court verdict of August 2015 had made it clear that women could work in bars.

Moreover, the Kerala Beverages Corporation (Bevco), a state government undertaking that sells liquor in Kerala, has around 50 women employees.

It was through an amendment to the rules of 1953 for granting licence to bar hotels (FL 3) brought in 2013 that women were banned from serving liquor.

At that time, the state government claimed that the amendment was made considering widespread complaints regarding employing women in bars.

Soon after the 2013 amendment, C J Dhanyamol, a waiter at a bar hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, and her colleague Sonia Das approached the High Court pointing out that they were going to be dismissed based on the government decision.

They argued before the court that the amendment violated Articles 14, 15 (1), (3), 16 (1) and 19 (1) of the Constitution.

In their writ petition, Dhanyamol and Sonia explained to the court that they were the sole breadwinners of their families.

They also informed the court that women were allowed to visit bars as customers, consume liquor and also have food. Preventing them from working at the same place was discriminatory in nature.

Accepting the arguments, the court ruled that the amendment violated the Right to Equality provided by the Constitution. The writ petition was allowed.

There are more than 300 women working in bars in Kerala. Most of them are from India's northeastern states.

According to the Excise Department, only bars with FL3 licenses are barred by law from employing women. This does not apply to Bevco.

On the recent case against Harbour View hotel in Kochi, the Department elaborated that the case was in fact related to the stock difference in the hotel.

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