Female bouncer Mehrunissa Shaukat tosses gender bias out of bars

Crushing orthodox mentality and bouncing into unfamiliar terrain


December 29, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Female bouncer Mehrunissa Shaukat tosses gender bias out of bars

Mehrunissa Shaukat Ali has broken new ground for gender parity by becoming India’s first woman bouncer (Photo: Mohsina Malik)

Hailing from a conservative Muslim family, Mehrunissa Shaukat Ali has broken new ground for gender parity by becoming India’s first woman bouncer, a profession that men have almost exclusively dominated.

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She still recalls the time when she, along with her family, shifted from Saharanpur, a small, sleepy town in the hills of Uttar Pradesh to the bustling capital New Delhi. It was in 2003 that Mehrunissa Shaukat Ali was forced to move, along with her family,  as her father had incurred enormous losses in the stock market and the family had to start afresh.

While in Saharanpur, she was clad in a veil and had limited interactions with people beyond her family or neighbourhood. But the moment they moved to Delhi, as the family needed financial support, she began looking for work. “As I was physically fit and well-built and had interest in fitness, I found a work as a female security guard or bouncer as some call it,’’ Ali tells Media India Group.

Though she had found a job, it was not an easy start for her. “At the start of the journey, it was very tough for me to explain to my family about being a bouncer and working at night clubs as they thought this profession was not for women. In addition, as it demands late night working hours because of which my family faced taunts from the neighbours and relatives,” Ali recalls.

“The atmosphere at work was strange for a girl like me who came from a small town where we used to wear the burqa. We were not even supposed to wear trousers and tops. Our neighbours and relatives used to make fun of me and my family over my work hours,’’ she says.

The discrimination against women, which is common and widespread in India, is even more pronounced in traditional families like Ali and she says, “Women have a huge price to pay for this inequality”.

“From the moment babies are born, their sex immediately begins to shape how they should be treated, what opportunities they should receive or how they should behave according to dominant gender stereotypes in their society. But I never lacked the courage to set my bar high and push myself towards the aim that defines my life of breaking stereotypes,” adds Ali.

Barriers at home and outside

The journey for Ali has been anything but not easy as she had to face stiff opposition from her immediate family and that too her father who was totally opposed to even the idea of education, let alone pursue a profession.

“As I came from a conservative Muslim family, pursuing higher education was not an option for me and women were not even allowed to leave homes, so finding a job was a big thing,” Ali recalls.

Ali says, “The gender-based division of household work is widespread. Boys are more likely given maintenance and outdoor chores while girls are given domestic chores. This segregation of household labour tells children that they are expected to take on different roles based on their gender. Since childhood, I had dreamt of flying high and achieving my goals but my life has been full of struggles from pursuing education to doing a job because, in my family, my mother was very supportive but not my father”, Ali adds.

“My father never allowed me to pursue education. It was not the only in my case, my brothers were also not allowed to do so. It is because the place I come from had a mindset that men are born for doing menial jobs and women for household chores and for reproducing. Why does a person need higher education and what is the purpose of it, when they are not going to become officers was the general belief,” Ali adds.

The atmosphere at her home was hardly conducive for anything that a family in today’s age would find entirely normal. “My father would disconnect the electricity and burn my books to prevent me from studying as he thought if I or my sisters studied, we would all run away from home and marry men of our choice,” Ali recounts.

Fortunately for Ali and her sisters, while her father was staunchly against education, her mother shielded them and ensured that they could indeed study. “My mother has been a major support for me all my life. Secretly, she helped me pursue education and I have completed my Masters in Hindi Literature from a university in Meerut. As she did this without telling my father, my mother was often beaten up by my father when he found out,’’ Ali says.

Breaking taboos and barriers

However, ever since they moved to Delhi, Ali has been leading her life according to her choice and against all odds she has managed to build a career from her chosen profession, which, even this day remains a taboo for women in most families in almost any part of the country.

Ali’s battles for equality and proper treatment did not end with just finding work. Her battles have continued at her workplace, at least until the moment that she launched her own business. When she was working with other companies, harassment at workplace was not uncommon. “Women face various forms of abuse at the workplace and all too often, they are hesitant to report the same due to the fear of losing their jobs. Sometimes, even if they do express their plight, they are ignored and blamed instead”, says Ali.

“Being a female I was sometimes harassed by my co-workers because of my gender. When I would insist on being called a bouncer, not a security guard, the male bouncers used to touch me inappropriately, asking me to show my physique and my muscles. But I did not give up and fought for my rights. I stood firm in every situation and that has earned me respect in this profession over the years,” adds Ali.

Apart from that, there were some professional hazards too, Ali says, adding that she would often come across drunk persons who had to be handled strictly and was obliged to stay until late hours in nightclubs and then get back home in the middle of the night in a city like Delhi which is amongst the most dangerous cities for women all over the world.

Starting off on her own

Having worked for several years in the security business, Ali says I learnt enough about the craft and the tricks of the trade in order to start her own business. So, last year, she launched her own security agency, Mardani Bouncer And Dolphin Security Service Private Limited.

She says that the idea to start her own business came to her in 2020 when she started working at Social, a popular cafe at Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. However, during the pandemic, as the cafe shut down, she lost her job, but did not lose hope and began toying with the idea of launching her own firm. Today, barely a year later, the company arranges regular assignments and jobs for at least 2,500 girls and boys, says Ali.

Ali says that starting off as a part-time female bouncer to now heading a security agency of her own has given her hope that all gender-based barriers and taboos can be blown away by determination and hard work and there is no profession, however male dominated it may be, where a woman cannot be the boss.

“I have seen only males in this profession so when we talk about equality, where is equality? It is not on the ground. In many professions, females are judged because of their gender. I think it should not happen, when a woman can head a family, she could be a leader as well. I am very happy I have broken a notion and given confidence to the many women who work with me now that females are not less than a male and can do anything in their lives,’’ says Ali.

“There are very few women are in male-dominant professions like the security agencies where you will see more males than females. Why? Because the society does not want to see a woman doing this. But I am very happy that I have changed the narrative in my family and shown everyone that woman can fly high and live a life of her choice, just like a man. There was a time when I had to think twice before doing anything,” Ali adds.



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