A light goes up unusually early in one of the two bedrooms of a single-storey house in Kishangarh, a Jat and Gujjar-dominated village in south Delhi. It’s 4 am on a Thursday morning and Mithilesh Arora, 40, has begun her day with a cup of milky tea. “There’s no fixed time for my waking up. That depends on my duty for the day,” says Mithilesh, who works as a bouncer for multiple agencies in Delhi. “On certain days, I work late and then the security firm organises a taxi to drop me home. This city is not safe in the dark,” she says.
Two weeks ago, two women bouncers, who worked for a private event management company in Gurgaon, fought off a rape attempt at gunpoint in a moving car. The women had taken a lift home around 5 am, after their night shift. But today, Mithilesh has it relatively easy. She has been posted at a conference in the Capital that will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event — the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction at Central Delhi’s Mansingh Road — begins at 8.30 am and Mithilesh has to report by 7 am. After a cup of tea, a small bowl of fruits and a quick shower, she leaves her home while her husband and four children are still asleep. She takes a taxi to the Chhattarpur Metro station and then heads to Central Secretariat, from where she hires an autorickshaw to reach Mansingh Road.
Fifteen minutes before 7 am, Mithilesh, dressed in a black shirt and trousers and wearing sneakers, walks through the entrance. For the next 12 hours, she will be on her feet, ensuring the security of those who walk through the enclosure’s gates. Mithilesh grew up in Kushak village of Haryana’s Palwal district, the youngest of the five children of a cloth merchant. She was married off at 19, a few years after her Class X exams. She says she had her dreams — “I wanted to join the Haryana Police. My cousin was in the police and that’s the job I wanted to do, but how can a girl wish for that? So I never told my family.”
After her wedding, Mithilesh moved to Faridabad, where her husband, Rajesh Arora, worked as a security guard. For the next 12 years, she stayed at home, raising four children — three boys and a girl. It was in 2007, Mithilesh says, that she considered becoming a bouncer. “My husband told me about the job. I was getting bored at home, so it made sense to take up the job. It was good money, and there is great respect for people who do security work. So I joined my husband’s company,” she says. However, the transition from being a housewife to a bouncer wasn’t easy. The problems were as basic as getting into a shirt and a pair of trousers. “It was strange. Women in our families had never worn one before,” she says.
The security firm gave her a week’s training. Besides telling her she had to change her diet — “they told me to eat a lot more fruits and vegetables” — she was taught basic “defence strategies”. “It is this part of the training that helps women bouncers protect themselves, not just at work, but outside too,” she says, going on to talk about what happened to the two women on October 24. “Those two women were brave. They caught hold of the steering wheel and the vehicle crashed into a divider… That’s exactly what we were trained to do,” says Mithilesh.
She says besides the financial independence — she earns up to Rs 18,000 in “good months” — the job makes her feel stronger as a woman. “People think that we cannot look after ourselves. I don’t feel that way about myself any longer. Not only can I protect myself and other women, I can help men too.” The hardest assignments, she says, are concerts and food or music festivals, where the crowds are larger and people drink late into the night. “Sometimes people drink too much and we have to escort them out of the venue and to their vehicles. Sometimes, fights break out, and we have to intervene and literally pull people apart.”
When things get ugly, she says, women bouncers are much more effective than men. “If there is a fight between women, it is harder for male bouncers to get involved. And when we intervene in a fight between men, they usually calm down faster,” laughs Mithilesh. Owners of security agencies say it’s precisely for these reasons that women bouncers are in demand. Anubhav Khiwani, who owns Denetim Services, a Delhi-based security agency, says, “Today, a lot more urban Indian women are venturing out of their homes and attending various events. That also explains the demand for women bouncers.” His firm, which had no women bouncers until two years ago, now has 12 and plans to hire some more women.
At 7 pm, Mithilesh emerges out of the venue at Mansingh Road, a purse and a cloth bag slung across her shoulder. She says the day’s duty was hectic, “but easy” — she had spent much of the day patting down women and going through their handbags to ensure they weren’t carrying prohibited items. In the 12 hours she had been inside, Mithilesh had only taken a half-hour lunch break, quickly eating the food she had packed from home. “Until noon, when the PM left, we barely had time to breathe, but after that, there wasn’t much to do,” she says, before calling up her children and asking them to book a radio taxi to take her home. “I can’t do all this myself,” she says, referring to the taxi-booking app. “So I simply tell my children and they book a cab for me.”
While she stands by the side of the road, waiting for the vehicle, other women security personnel walk past her, many of them pausing for a quick conversation and sharing a laugh before heading home. At 8 pm, Mithilesh settles the taxi driver’s bill and walks down the narrow lanes of Kishangarh village to her home. Her husband has just left for his night shift at a residential complex in Vasant Vihar, and her youngest son, Vicky, has gone out to meet his friends. Her daughter, Deepika, 19, rushes into the kitchen to make tea. Her sons Ankit and Yash emerge out of one of the bedrooms, where they had been watching TV. While Deepika and Ankit are doing their BA from a private university in Ghaziabad, Yash (Class 12) and Vicky (Class 10) study in a government school nearby.
The home is modest. A computer sits on the study table next to the television, and most of the space in the two rooms is taken up by three beds, all lined up against the walls. Soon, Mithilesh changes into a salwar-kurta — “this is what I like wearing best” — and goes to the kitchen to help Deepika. “My children manage the house. I only help them,” she says. “When the children were younger, my husband and I had to coordinate our hours to make sure one of us was always at home with them, but now that they have grown up, I can go to work without worrying,” she says, adding that she now gets more time for herself.
As she sits down on one of the double-beds in the house, Mithilesh says her job as a bouncer has brought her closest to her dream of joining the police. “I started working when I was around 30. If I had been 26, I would have probably tried for the police… But my work as a bouncer is not too different from a policewoman’s, so this is not too bad,” she says.