Managing the finances of the house is solely Aditi’s (name changed) responsibility. Her husband has taken to alcohol irreversibly, and so, the small shanty in the Pune slum has to be managed solely by the young wife. There were times when she was beaten up mercilessly by the man. But today, those instances lie only in the past.
Today, she towers over the crowd–easily distinguished in her black uniform, arms crossed across the chest, her attentive eyes scanning the crowd.
Aditi is one among the 540 women working as bouncers in Pune. The credit of their extraordinary career goes to Deepa Parab, an actor-turned-activist.
For a few years, Deepa worked in Mumbai. She aimed to get recruited in the Maharashtra Police and was undergoing training in the state capital.
At the same time, she would take up day jobs as make-up or junior artist in films to fund her expenses. That was when she first encountered a bodyguard.
“These heavily built-up men would accompany the actors and actresses on the sets, each of them wearing black uniforms. I was curious about their jobs and got talking with them–asking what they did, if I could join them, and how. They realised that I had undergone police training and could work as a bouncer too. So I started joining them for events. It wasn’t what I had hoped for,” Deepa tells The Better India.
Ladies take charge
Deepa and other female bouncers were always stationed outside the ladies’ bathroom to take care of the drunk women in pubs and concerts. When she asked the authorities to give her more responsibility, they simply said that as a woman she was not capable of handling “wild” crowds. And that she was best stationed outside bathrooms only.
It was this realisation that brought Deepa back to Pune and motivated her to start an academy to train and employ female bouncers in the city. She started spreading the word at religious events where women from lower income classes assembled.
“I was looking for women taller than five feet, who had a considerable built. After all, bouncers cannot hide in the mob. We started with about 12 women who suited the physical needs and were enthusiastic about the idea. One of our first assignments was during the Ganesha festival when we had to take charge of the women and the elderly. Might I say, we did a wonderful job there, because soon enough, we got several calls–from women who wished to join our Ranragini Academy and event managers who wanted to hire us,” the 40-year-old says.
That’s how the journey of Ranragini Academy began in June 2016. From a handful of women, the Academy grew to hundreds of recruits within nearly three years.
27-year-old Shweta Nikam is one such bouncer who has been associated with the Academy for two years now. “My husband met with an accident and cannot work anymore. At the time of the accident, I was a homemaker, and the mishap brought our world crashing. A friend of mine, Sangeeta, had brought up Ranragini and I decided to give it a shot. Needless to say, I love my job. I do about three to four events every week and earn between 700-800 rupees per event.”
Muscles that empower
Deepa tells me of an instance when she was walking in Shirdi along with her sister.
“It was late, and I was wearing a jacket atop my uniform. The uniform T-shirt has ‘bouncer’ written on the back, and it draws enough respect. Call it his fortune or misfortune, but a man on the street started passing lewd comments at us. Instinctively, I took off my jacket and went straight to him, demanding that he repeat what he said. He apologised, shy and embarrassed after understanding my work. I might not be able to make the world a safe place for women in general, but the woman who works with me can protect herself.”
The women undergo training that strengthens their calf and arm muscles. Deepa was undergoing police training, but she had to give up that dream due to personal problems. For the women who now join the Academy, walking or jogging a few kilometres every day is a must.
“I am trying to help them stand on their feet. And for that, they need to be able to stand for at least eight hours. Walking and jogging every day takes care of that. When they have completed a couple of events, I ask them to join the gym. If that’s impossible, I help them buy dumbbells and weights, so that they can exercise at home. No one can say that women can’t be bodyguards because we are proving them wrong,” says Deepa proudly.
Just last week, she told us, four of her team members, including her, lifted a wrongly parked bullet bike and repositioned it.
But it’s not just the literal heavy lifting that is helping the bouncers. It is the security of a respected job that pays them and puts them on a pedestal equal to men.
“I have been working with Deepa and her team for a little over a year,” Arif, who runs a security academy in Pune tells TBI. He adds, “These women are just as capable of managing events as the men I recruit. It is difficult for men to control the female crowd and we know our boundaries. We cannot touch them. Deepa’s team is always a blessing in such instances.”
The framework of Ranragini
The recruitment of women into the training stage is overseen by Deepa who ensures that their height, weight and physical structure align with the needs of a bodyguard.
Once selected, the women are trained for free at the Pandit Nehru Stadium in Pune. Attendance is not compulsory since Deepa understands the social backgrounds of the women and their responsibilities.
They are asked to attend a couple of events where their capabilities are tested. If all goes well, they continue working with Ranragini as bouncers, bodyguards and security officials. On average, each woman is paid between Rs 700-900, of which Rs 100 is reserved for Deepa.
“I don’t charge them anything for the training. And of the fees that they receive, I keep just Rs 100. Sometimes, celebrities or event managers give us a big amount as a gift. We don’t keep that money either. I have funded the education of two girls with the money. I like to think of my work as a social activity and not a business,” explains Deepa.
From college students and school dropouts to housewives and widows, Ranrangini’s women stand strong at school events, high profile parties and celebrity functions, guarding people and ready to take action if anything goes amiss. With a firm attitude and determination, they are ready to take over the world!
To know more, contact them on their Facebook page or write to Deepa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)