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This Spirited Bouncer is Determined to Keep Women in Clubs Safe

“At work, I have to be tough. I have to also ensure women are safe,” says Mehrunissa, a woman bouncer in HKV.

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Ever been told you couldn’t do something because it’s a “man’s job”? It’s time to shut the haters. For Women’s Day, we present you stories about women who’re acing conventionally male-dominated jobs and smashing ‘StreeOtypes’ along the way!

This story was first published on 11 August 2017. It has been republished for Women’s Day.

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The first time I met Mehrunnissa was inside the female washroom of Hauz Khas Social. She had just arrived for her 10-hour long shift. She answered all my queries while getting ready. First, she combed her hair, removing every knot patiently. Tied them into a braid.

I watched her as she pulled the red lipstick out of her bag, quickly applying it, as she had to rush to ‘man’ the entrance. Finally, she completed her look with winged eyeliner, giving her kohl-rimmed eyes perfect symmetrical wings.

In her unorthodox and nontraditional profession of a bouncer, the wings are Mehrunnissa’s own signature – her little act of defiance. Not bending to the stereotypes, in that moment, she redefined for me what a bouncer is supposed to look like.

Me: What does it take to be a bouncer?

Mehrunnissa: Strong build, firm voice and a control on your temper.

Me: Don’t people ever tell you that eyeliner doesn’t go well with a bouncer’s black-on-black outfit?

I love wearing kajal and eyeliners. People say it doesn’t suit a bouncer. I tell them I don’t care, kajal is important to me.

The Girl From Saharanpur

Mehrunnisha Shokat Ali was born in Saharanpur to a Hindu mother and a Muslim father. Her father Shokat Ali was a conservative man. The women in the house weren’t encouraged to study. Third of four sisters, she knew she was destined to be married off at her parent’s will, just like her two elder sisters. However, things changed after her father’s business collapsed. The family had to sell their property and move to Delhi.

Mehrunnisha is HKV Social’s famous female bouncer.
(Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)      

In order to support the family, Mehrunnissa started looking for jobs. In her tiny one room house in Dakshinpuri, she told me about her journey as a female bouncer.

She started as a saleswoman at a lingerie store. With a help of an NGO, she moved to a female bouncer’s job. From IPL matches to reality show auditions, from film promotions to corporate launches, she has worked in every kind of event. Even her younger sister, Tarannum, is a professional bouncer. Together the two support their entire family.

Bouncers and sisters, Mehrunnisha Shokat Ali (right) and Tarannum, walk towards a taxi after finishing their shifts.
(Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
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Being a (Female) Bouncer

People get drunk and get out of control. It isn’t an easy profession.

“At events we were treated as security guards. We were given less or no responsibility. I would often have arguments with the organisers for treating us differently. I would often wonder what is it that the men do that I cannot,” she said.

Once a couple went into the washroom together. When I went in to object, the man dragged me outside by my collar and the girl slapped me. The management didn’t take any actions because the couple had paid a bill of Rs 70,000.

Three years ago Mehrunnissa joined Hauz Khas Social. With the number of women flocking to clubs having shot up, places like Social have started employing more female bouncers. At Social, she has had a better experience so far.

A man grabs cheek of bouncer Mehrunnisha at the dance floor of club Social in New Delhi.
(Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

Who is Mehrunnissa?

Mehrunnissa has been written about extensively. Her story has been told in print, television and now on the web. And she continues to be flooded with interview requests. When I approached her for a story, I wondered what new I could tell about her. What was it that hadn’t been said already.

Mehrunnisha during a shopping expedition before Eid.
(Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

“We are Many People”

Seeing Mehrunnissa at home surrounded with her nephews and nieces, I saw a different woman. Seeing her cackle with the children on that day, I forgot about the woman I met in Social the previous evening.

Me: Do you become a different person when you wear the black uniform?

Mehrunnissa: Maybe... Maybe I do.

At work I have to be tough. People get drunk. They pick fights. I have to be on my toes to resolve them and make sure nothing untoward happens. I have to also ensure women are safe. At home, I am different person. Around my nephews and nieces I cannot be a bouncer. I have to play with them, laugh at their jokes and behave like a kid. So I guess yes, I am different person in the uniform.

We are many people. For me Mehrunnissa will be the bouncer with a winged eyeliner.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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