Two Muslim sisters have defied their family and conservative community to bravely fulfil their dream of working as bouncers in Indian nightclubs.
Mehrunnisha Shokat Ali, 30, from Saharanpur district, in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, has faced criticism from both family and neighbours for choosing a job which is completely unheard of within her culture and religion.
‘I’ve faced many problems,’ she said. ‘All of my relatives, even neighbours, questioned my late working hours. My father didn’t eat for several days and my brothers were humiliated when I told them what I wanted. But thankfully, my mother has supported me. She managed to convince the family to trust me. Once my family was ok, I didn’t care about others.’
Mehrunnisha once dreamed of being a police officer or in the army and trained in the Indian military cadet corps (NCC) as well as Taekwondo. However, when she told her father and showed him her police uniform he burnt it in fury.
‘My father’s very conservative,’ she said. ‘He didn’t even allow me or my sisters to study. We used to hide our books under our quilt and study in secret. When it was time to go to school there was always arguments in our house. In the end we used to run out without breakfast and walk miles in the scorching sun; we used to get rashes on our feet.’
‘We completed school with great difficulties.’
Mehrunnisha left home and moved to Delhi, in 2007, to look for a job. However, she’d never heard of a bouncer.
‘I had dreamt of joining the police or army. I always had dreams of protecting people in some way but since that could not happen I chose a different job where the duties were the same. Someone suggested this job, I thought it was just a security guard role, but when I realised it was protecting and helping people, I said yes.’
As soon as Mehrunnisha started working she quickly realised she was the only female in a very male dominated industry.
‘There were no lady bouncers in Delhi,’ she said. ‘But slowly that’s changing.’
On average she works around 16 hour shifts, covering two different locations, and sends her salary home to help her family.
She added: ‘My dad suffered a huge loss in his business because of me and the dishonour I caused. I feel responsible so I’m working two jobs to help them too.
‘I need to help my father to recover and run the house.’
‘My father thought his daughter was working a terrible job, he couldn’t understand why I wanted to do such a job because I was surrounded by alcohol and girls dressed not to his standards. But I had to convince him to trust me that I would not follow the same path. It was about trust. And I knew that I wanted to do this job, but the type of things other girls were enjoying didn’t interest me, it was just the work.’
Mehrunnisha has been a security guard for several Bollywood celebrities including Priyanka Chopra, Preity Zinta and Vidya Balan.
She said, ‘I love my job. There is no better feeling than to protect the women of my country.
‘I feel proud of myself doing this job.’
‘Despite being a Muslim girl I came out and did this. It is a huge achievement for me and girls like me.’
Mehrunnisha’s sister, Tarannum Shokat Ali, 27, was inspired by her older sister and decided to follow her path.
The duo started working together as bouncers at private events but now Tarannum is employed at a club five-minutes from her sister.
Tarannum said: ‘Our brothers had businesses in Delhi so we came to Delhi. We did a computer course but there was no work so we got into the profession. We never thought that we would get into this but now we love it and it gives us both money and respect.’
Both Mehrunnisha and Tarannum go to the gym every day and maintain a strict diet to stay fit.
The sisters also intend to marry men who not only understand their profession but respect it.
Mehrunnisha added: ‘One day I want to get married but I need a man who respects me and my work. I don’t want to give up my job so my future husband and in-laws need to respect my job because it’s not only my profession but my passion.’