“Keep your eyes down, lower your voice, stay in Burqa” is what they told her. But Mehrunisha defied them all and took up a profession where she wears a uniform, her sharp eyes keep watch on rowdy men, ensuring women’s safety. She is a bouncer at Delhi’s Hauz Khas Social (at the time of this profile).
Mehrunisha is full of life and joy, there is no speck of anger or disappointment in her even as she talks about her broken dream. “I had one dream, to join the army. I used to see these army men marching down the road in front of our house in Saharanpur and loved the idea of power that came with the uniform. My first uniform was the NCC uniform, that day when I brought it home from college, father set it on fire,” she tells with unnerving nonchalance.
She grew up in Saharanpur, UP with three brothers and four sisters and was a favourite among her father and brothers. They would watch her back, cover up for her when she’d break a vase or two, and doting father would laugh away her misadventures. “My father had just one concern, to protect daughters from evils of education and marry them off as soon as they entered puberty. Dekho beta, school chor doge na toh tumhe main acche se rakhunga, jo bologe la dunga (see chid, if you will leave school I will take best care of you, I will get you whatever you want) he would tell us,” Shared Nisha, as she prefers to be called, revealing the deep seated patriarchal mindset in which she grew up.
But Nisha was determined to go to school and get education against all odds, she either fought with her father or begged and pleaded him to allow her to go to school. She would walk miles as father wouldn’t pay for school bus. “Father used to disconnect the electricity, hide all torches and candles so that we don’t have any light to do our studies. But I used to burn newspaper to make fire and study,” said Nisha.
Patriarchal idea of giving ‘best care’ to women means giving them two times meal, some materialistic pleasures and reducing them to mere bodies for sexual and reproductive labour with no self-autonomy. Take the case of Nisha’s younger sister who never went to school, married off at thirteen, by the time she was eighteen she had given birth to three children. Then she met with an accident and her husband threw our out, “What would I do with limp wife?” he said. Children were burden too. “I too would have been married off by fourteen but I became very sick and the doctor said, “If you want to see your daughter alive, do not even think of marrying her,” said Nisha about her own vulnerability.
For what it’s worth the men of this family failed big time. Her doting father lost every penny to gambling and himself took to bed due to bad health. An evening of unpleasant arguments over money and family expenses with her brother led Nisha to decide once and for all, to never be dependent on any man. The next morning, she took up a minor job as a sales girl. There has been no looking back since then. To support her ailing parents and dependent sisters, Nisha went on taking various odd jobs as security guard at shopping malls, frisking personnel at Trade Fair, cashier at cinema hall etc.
Never a woman to be take a step back when faced with a challenge she was once stopped from going near Shah Rukh Khan by some hefty looking male bouncers. That led her to gain weight and do muscle training to build a body as intimidating as those bouncers. She always wanted to gain power and authority. “In many events where I went as bouncer I used to notice that male bouncers were doing more important tasks like crowd control, stopping fights and us female bouncer were given the boring task of frisking and checking bags. I refused and joined the male bouncers in controlling crowd.” This desire to gain power was perhaps born out of a determination to take control of her life, “I didn’t want the same fate for myself, which my father did to my mother, my mother had no say in anything in her whole life.”
Today, Nisha is a Bouncer with Hauz Khas Social, a place she calls safer than home, she has the authority to manage crowd control, handle rowdy men and throw them out in case of any bad behaviour. “Girls should not look towards anyone for survival – father, brother, nobody. Just be self-dependent. Live your own life. Marriage is not part of my life goals, I wouldn’t make the same mistake my mother made.” Said Nisha, as a message to young girls out there.
An edited version of this story first appeared on Grazia Magazine, Print September 2016 edition.