Two years ago they were just a clutch of women - only 12 - mostly fending off harassers on city roads. But today, the tribe has grown. More than 500 women bouncers in Pune are now working as bodyguards, managing events, fairs, functions and political rallies, and sharing the load of the overburdened police force.
Mostly belonging to middle and lower-middle class families, these bouncers include married, unmarried, porced, widowed, housewives and working women. Some college-goers and school dropouts have also joined the ranks.
While the concept of women bouncers is not new to Maharashtra - in Mumbai they had established themselves more than five years ago – it had remained alien to Pune.
In 2017, it was Deepa Parab, an actor, activist and philanthropist, who set up the Rangragini Bouncers Group of Pune, to train women in muscle and strength building. "More than five years ago, I saw how women bouncers were limited to only pubs in Mumbai to keep the crowd in check. They had no other role to play. This is when I decided to come to Pune and start an academy to train bouncers for free," Parab said.
The 40-year-old, who started her career playing cameos as a police inspector in Bollywood movies, said that the institute has so far trained 540 women. "In just two years (since 2017), our number shot up to 540 and it is rising every day," she said. The job of a bouncer, she said, not only provides additional income, but also ensures a woman her place of pride and dignity in the society.
"We train women for free and help them get jobs as bodyguards for celebrities and other bigwigs. Women associated with us also find employment as security personnel or as managers at private events, political rallies and public functions," Parab said, adding there has been a growing demand for woman bouncers from colleges as well.
On Mahashivratri, 45 women bouncers had helped to manage a five lakh-strong crowd that had turned up for darshan at Wagholi temple, drawing huge public appreciation.
For 35-year-old Madhuri Patekar, a widow living in a chawl (in Ganj Peth area of Pune city) who took training at Rangragini Bouncers Group, such empowerment was important to lead a life without fear and societal pressure. "Before I became a bouncer, men would taunt me or make fun of me whenever I moved around my chawl. But since the time they realised that I was a trained bouncer, they don't dare to do such things," she said.
Poonam Shinde, who lives with her husband and children in Dhanwakawdi, said, "Initially, my family had doubts, but soon they realised that such training brings respectability to a woman's life and supported me." The job of a bouncer, she said, gives women a new sense of confidence for healthy living.
Collegian Vaishnavi Gadhve's world had come crashing when she had lost her father. With a mother and younger brother to look after, Vaishavi had joined a bouncer's group, which, she said, had put her life on a new path. "I help my college mates if any boys are harassing them. My mere presence, makes such boys flee… I fear none and can take the world head-on," she said.
According to Parab, several women lack confidence and strength when they join the group initially. "We guide them on muscle and strength building… and to remove the word fear from their minds. Our bouncers can even lift bodies lying on roads, which the general people fear to do," Deepa said.
"I think women should empower themselves and establish their own identity in this world and be ready to fend for themselves," she added.
Following the Rangragini Bouncers Group's footsteps, a few other groups too have started training woman bouncers in Pune.