Mehrunnisa Shaukat Ali, India’s first woman bouncer belongs to a family in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur, a town bordering Uttarakhand. Ali's journey has been everything but easy because not only did she deal with her father's fierce opposition to education but also the gender bias in a profession that is considered unconventional for women.
Mehrunnisa Ali's journey of breaking barriers, leading the security sector, and becoming the first female bouncer in India is indeed an inspiration. In this conversation with SheThePeople Ali opened up about her journey, recalling how obtaining a basic education for girls was not even a possibility in her village, and how growing up in a conservative Muslim household pushed her further to seek a life beyond boundaries leading her to become India's first celebrated woman bouncer.
Mehrunnisa Shaukat Ali Interview
Growing up in a family where girls were taught that their sole purpose was to manage a kitchen and care for their children, Mehrunnisa decided to dream a different dream. Once forbidden to even attend school, Mehrunnisa found a rescuer in her mother whose support was integral for her. While her mother could not do much for herself, she dreamed of her daughters getting an education and stood against the male patriarchs in the family for this.
It was a chance encounter that changed Mehrunnisa's life forever. She shared, "My father had arranged for me to marry the man when I was just starting to enter my teenage years, but when I caught typhoid fever, my younger sister, who was only twelve, was made to marry the man instead."
Two of her four sisters had been married off when they were teenagers and were now in a terrible state by the time she grew up. Her mother realised this and fought the villagers and everyone else to ensure her kids attended school. Mehrunnisa wouldn't have succeeded if her mother hadn't taken those actions, she added, "For that, I am eternally grateful."
The first step towards independence
Mehrunnisa shared how she initially wished to join the Army or the police as a combatant. But, by the time she finished her primary education, her father suffered a significant loss in his business and they lost everything. It changed her life again. When she started looking for a job, it was difficult for her to come from a family where women weren't even permitted to leave the house. However, as an NCC cadet in school, she had already trained in martial arts and had a good fitness regime.
It was during the job hunting phase that she learned of a possible opening in the security field. "I heard they were hiring female bouncers in Delhi. Although it was a non-female field back then, I still applied for the position."
"From being confined to four walls to breaking boundaries, I came a long way"
Ali additionally addressed how her family, especially her father, adapted to her profession in particular. "I remember how my father would turn off the electricity and burn my books to stop me from studying because he believed that if my sisters or I studied, we would all leave the house and marry the men of our choosing. Imagine coming from such a mindset and then transforming such a thought process."
Her father also believed that fathers should not accept financial assistance from daughters. She shared how there was a strong stigma that only men could be the family's "breadwinners" and not women, but over time, her father came to accept her profession. He is now proud of her, she said, sounding elated.
Challenges in the security industry
For the most part, men have dominated the security industry. Therefore, finding her ground as a bouncer was far from easy for Mehrunnisa. She encountered numerous difficulties and barriers on her journey, but she overcame them all one at a time and succeeded. She expressed that now that female bouncers are out in public, everyone appreciates them and that women thank them personally for keeping them safe. This was not the case when she first got there when most people asked her questions like, "Why are you here? What are you going to do? There's no need for a lady bouncer. You can do nothing."
She recalled how she had encountered harassment based on gender at work, but she insisted that she had always remained composed and earned her peers’ respect over time. "For young girls and women, it can be comforting to see women bouncers at events, and the society has changed a lot from earlier, the idea of women being protectors is normalised to some extent now."
After forging solid ground in the field for several years, Mehrunnisa said she gained enough knowledge of the industry to launch her own company. As a result, she established 'Mardani Bouncer and Dolphin Security Service Private Limited' in 2021.
From working as a part-time female bouncer to now running my own security firm has given me hope that all gender-based taboos and barriers can be destroyed with perseverance and that there is no profession in which a woman cannot hold the top position, no matter how male-dominated it may be.
It is a result of Mehrunnisa's solid portfolio of work that she has gained national recognition. She was also recently signed as one of the faces of Uber as part of the company's campaign Resilient Aspirers which is bringing India’s inspirational stories to the forefront. From when she started as a self-defence trainer and motivational speaker to now, she has seen tremendous changes in how girls have started learning self-defence and society has started accepting this.
She is pleased that more women than ever before are employed in the security sector, that self-defence classes are being taken by women, and that society is beginning to accept this. When asked what her golden advice to aspiring female bouncers is, she said, "Never back down, it's hard work and dedication to a goal that ultimately pays off."
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