It's Saturday night and a long queue has formed in front of Score, a hip nightclub in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.
The hefty entry fee of 1,000 rupees ($25) per couple is no deterrent for the city's bold and beautiful. Security is tight - guests pay at the counter, have their arms stamped and are then frisked. Male guests are searched by male bouncers, women by Amandeep Kaur. She is Chandigarh's first and only woman bouncer - a rarity anywhere in India, but more so in a male-dominated society like Punjab's.
'Like a son'
Punjab has one of the worst sex ratios in the country - here a woman's life is often valued far less than a man's. "My father never made me feel like I was a girl. He always used to tell me - 'you are like a son to me'," says Ms Kaur. She is only 22 and has been three weeks in her job. During the day, she presents news programmes on a local television channel. Four nights a week, she dons black jeans and a black T-shirt and takes her place outside Score. As Chandigarh's rich and beautiful women line up to enter, they have to pass through Ms Kaur's hands. So why did she choose this unusual job?
"Some time ago, I came here to attend a party with some friends. I saw lots of male bouncers, but there was no female bouncer. "So I told the hotel staff I wanted to be a bouncer. They said that's not possible. It's a job only a man can do." Ms Kaur set out to prove them wrong. When she first took up the job, her friends and neighbours were shocked. "Why?" everyone wanted to know. Her response: "Why not?" Anupama Bharadwaj, managing director of Score, says: "We were looking for some time for a female bouncer. With Kaur around, our women customers feel safer." And the guests have only nice things to say about the new woman on the door.
"I had never heard of a lady bouncer but it's only fair that women get checked too since all the men are checked before they are allowed in. Also, it makes us feel safer if there is a woman bouncer. And she seems quite sweet," says Nupur, an architect.
Ms Kaur's work alternates between being at the door (to check those coming in) and inside (to ensure the women guests behave). "My job is to keep an eye on the women guests - sometimes they get drunk and become a nuisance.
"I also have to make sure that they don't smoke outside of the designated area, especially in the ladies' toilet. And that they don't misbehave with anyone. If I see anyone doing anything wrong, I give them a warning. If they don't pay any heed, I throw them out." Surjit Singh, who heads the team of bouncers at the nightclub, speaks highly of Ms Kaur's work. "Earlier, some women would come in and cause trouble, they would harass men, and we couldn't do anything about them. We've also had women trying to sneak in with drugs, but we couldn't check them. All this has stopped since Kaur has come in."
Ms Kaur has had no special training to be a bouncer. But for the job she is in, being fit is essential. "I work out in the gym for two hours every morning. I eat a protein-rich diet. I'm very strong, both physically and mentally." And most guests seem to take her strength on board - not many, even when they are drunk, mess around with her. But sometimes, things can - and do - get ugly. "Last week, this girl was trying to force another in the toilet to smoke. I went in and asked her to stop. When she didn't, I took away her cigarette and put it out. She lit another one! I had to throw them out," she says.
The matter did not end there.
"Once outside, her boyfriend threatened me. He said you would have to pay for what you have done. "I don't feel scared but sometimes a thought comes to the back of my mind. I'm safe in the club. But once I finish my duty and leave at 2am, I'm on my own. What happens if they come in a group?" It's about 11pm and inside the club, the party is rocking. The bouncers, including Ms Kaur, are strung out across the floor, watching for trouble.
We step out because more guests are coming in and Ms Kaur has to frisk the women before they enter. A group of young men are outside. Single men are allowed in only if they are regulars and pay a cover charge of 1,500 rupees ($37).
Checking over, Ms Kaur goes back in and does the rounds - the loos are checked and it all seems under control. Doors shut at half past midnight. We can now go inside and stay inside. But for Ms Kaur, as long as there are guests, she cannot relax. And as the evening passes, guests get high on alcohol and music.
One couple have to be escorted out by the bouncers - the man has had way too much to drink and is swaying from side to side. Another young man comes crashing down the stairs and falls at my feet. One of the bouncers helps him up. Once on his feet, he lurches towards the dance floor. The bouncers let him be.
There are no more incidents. Amandeep Kaur and the others in her team can now breathe easy - their long night is over. Until the next one.
6 months ago