smashing stereotypes

What Does It Mean to Be a Female Bouncer in a Tier-2 City in Northeast India?

From being hit on to avoiding being hit—it’s all in a night’s work.

by Anjana Parikh; photos by Anjana Parikh
18 January 2019, 6:34am

Challenging stereotypes, one bar night at a time. 

It’s 7.30pm on a Saturday night. You can already see people flocking to Beer Republic, an upscale nightclub that lies 5 kms away from Siliguri, one of the fastest growing cities in West Bengal. Amidst the crowd, a woman, dressed head-to-toe in black, walks into the establishment in a hurry. She throws her bag into a corner, and after giving a tight smile to another woman, also dressed in black, takes her position with folded arms at the entrance.

At 5”1’, strong but not muscular, Sangita Tamang, aged 33 and mother to two teenage girls, is one of the few female bouncers in India. In this neck of the woods (northeast India), there are about six women bouncers. Their male counterparts tally to around 15.

Tamang’s day begins when others’ is winding down, with Fridays and weekends being the busiest. She took up the profession two years ago, to give her daughters a good education. Today, she's learnt to enjoy it. “Staying calm is one of the first things I learnt on the job,” she tells me. But if the situation spirals “out of control”, she is authorised to drag the troublemakers out of the club. On most nights, you will find her standing sternly, eyes alert as a hawk for any signs of delinquency. Things can get chaotic very fast, she says. Recently, two inebriated men started fighting with each other near the dance floor. “I had to intervene as there were no male bouncers that night,” she says. “I had to use my full force to separate them.” She speculates that being a woman actually helps in such situations. The men apologised to her; had it been a male bouncer in her place, Tamang believes the situation might have escalated.

“If a person smiles at me while I’m on duty, I smile back. Women have come to me to say that they feel safe when they see a female bouncer in the bar.”

With a freeflow of alcohol at her workplace, things do get eventful. “A few days ago, a woman with a glass of alcohol came onto the dance floor,” she says. “I told her she wasn’t allowed to bring drinks to the dance floor. But she wouldn’t listen. When I tapped her on her shoulder for emphasis, she rudely asked me not to touch her and proceeded to complain to her friend.” Staying calm and explaining rules in such situations takes immense patience but on a couple of occasions, Tamang has not hesitated to drag especially errant patrons out of the nightclub.

There are days when Tamang has to handle “over-friendly” men, who try to chat her up by commenting on her clothes. “One day, I wore a colourful T-shirt with a pair of black jeans. A man came up to me and whispered, ‘My girlfriend is not with me today.’” Tamang’s learnt to handle such situations adeptly, and it wasn’t long before the man was effusive with apologies. “But since that day, though, I prefer wearing only black on duty,” she laughs.

Getting compliments for doing what she does comes her way often, especially from young girls. “If a person smiles at me while I’m on duty, I smile back. Women have come to me to say that they feel safe when they see a female bouncer in the bar.” Tamang’s secret to staying fit, agile and strong? Doing all the household chores herself!

When Tamang took up her first gig as a bouncer, she couldn’t get herself to tell her family about it for the fear that they might not be okay with it. Her husband, Jeevan, lives in Kurseong—a 45-minute drive from Siliguri. “Whenever he called me at night, I would tell him that I was asleep and so, missed his calls,” she says. “My husband’s income was not enough to provide good education for the girls.” Her job earns her Rs 8,000 a month, plus tips. Is safety ever a concern, I ask her, especially when the shift ends and it’s time to call it a night. “I chose this career also because my brother is a bouncer at the same establishment. So I feel safe while travelling home in the middle of the night with him. Bouncers are also human beings and I need to look out for myself. Anything can happen to us too.”

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Northeast India