New Delhi: “My father had disconnected the electricity so that we could not study. He said that if we studied, we would run away and marry men of our choice. But my mother fought with the people of our village to give us the opportunity to attend school, after she saw two of my sisters who had been married off in their teenage suffer terribly,” said Mehrunnisa Shaukat Ali, a 35-year-old woman from Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, who has been breaking the gender bias by becoming India’s first woman bouncer, a profession that is largely dominated by men.
Mehrunnisa works at Social, a popular cafe in the Hauz Khas Village of Delhi and also provides security at personal events and to celebrities including Bollywood actors. She is an expert in breaking up bar fights and uncovering illegal drugs along with keeping an eye out for the safety of female customers. Mehrunnisa would have been married off at the age of 12 but as fate would have it she got typhoid and was bedridden for a while. After her illness, she was determined to work towards improving her life’s prospects. Second, of four sisters, Mehrunnisa, who always wanted to become a police officer, enrolled as an NCC cadet. She learnt karate and worked on her fitness, hoping to land a job with the police. She heard about an opening for a female bouncer in Delhi and applied for it. Today, she earns well as a professional bouncer. But it was not an easy journey. Mehrunnisa recalls,
I joined this field in 2003 when I was in Class 11 and my father lost his business and we were broke. Since childhood I was interested in action. I was trying for Indian Army or Police services. I went for the auditions of Indian Idol to Delhi when I saw huge bouncers. I was determined to become like one of them and today I am a lady bouncer. Initially, women in this line were called as security guards and only men were called as bouncers. But I opposed this strongly and fought to be referred to as a bouncer and demanded to be given the duties just like other bouncers that involved maintaining discipline at an event, handling spats and providing security to celebrities. I was put to many tests before I could get the designation of a bouncer. I remember I was so determined to be not limited to a security guard’s job outside a concert where Sonu Nigam was performing that I had to break a few rules in order to get near the stage where male bouncers were working. I did a tremendous job at handling the crowd and my employer saw how comfortable women at the event felt because of my presence. After a few more events where I was tested for handling men and women at events, I became a bouncer and they stopped calling me security guard.
It was difficult for her to explain to her family about her work as they also thought that being a bouncer is not what girls should be doing. Also, because her job entails late nights, it led to her and her family facing jeering comments from the neighbours. But Mehrunnisa never lacked the courage to set her expectations high and push herself towards the goal that defines her life of breaking the gender bias. Mehrunnisa, who will be getting married to a man of her choice next year, has been helping in education and upbringing of three children of her younger sister who was married off when she was A 12-year-old. She said,
After an accident, my sister became physically disabled and because of this, her husband left her. She came back to my parents’ home after that with her three small children. But even there she was not being able to live in peace and had to face unpleasant comments. I became the breadwinner for a household consisting of parents, two sisters, and my sister’s three children, besides myself. I am glad that we are all doing well. My sister’s children are now 10,11, and 12-year-old and are quite tall already. I am glad that because of my job, I was able to build such an environment for them that they will never have to face what their mother faced. They are good at studies and I am sure they will build a good future for themselves.
For Mehrunnisa, becoming a bouncer is also a matter of respect. She said that she feels proud of what she does and encourages other women also to join the field. She is now running her own company called Mardani Bouncer And Dolphin Security Service Private Limited, along with two partners. Currently, over 2,500 girls and boys have been employed through her security service. She said,
I am very proud of what I do. It is not an easy job. Taking care of people, especially women in a club, is a very big responsibility. My youngest sister has also become a bouncer. I can see that my father is now very proud of me and my youngest sister. His outlook towards daughters has completely changed now. He used to force us to learn about doing household chores properly but now he understands that girls can live and do well beyond the limits of the four walls of the house.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.