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These three hard working women security guards are full of humour, hope and determination, and somewhere between having their books taken from them early on to making decisions for their families, they grew up.
What comes to mind when you think of security guards? I bet it’s a mixed collage of beefy, wordless men in black (The Indian kind); with furrowed brows and nothing to smile about. Or potbellied, disinterested kakas spread out on plastic Neelkamal chairs; fanning themselves while watching Facebook reels.
This imagery probably needs a makeover and reassessment, like so much else around us these days.
Meet Sultana Sheikh, Vandana Sardar and Manju Prajapati, part of the new breed of women security guards that is slowly but steadily surfacing in housing societies and business establishments all over the country. Ask them the obvious question of why they chose this particular job and pat comes the response. Why not?
While thousands of women are still having to fight for basic rights within and outside their homes, there are others who have managed to battle the morass of circumstances, conjecture and conventions to carve a unique path for themselves and their families.
Manju, hailing from a small village in UP, was married off at 15 years of age to a man who was 8 years older. She followed him to Mumbai where he managed a store selling electronics and mobile accessories. Not only would she run the home and take care of their 3 children, she would also help with the business.
Someone who couldn’t step out of her house without a ghunghat or look a stranger in the eye, is now a mature 31 year old single mother, separated from her husband, something that would also be considered taboo in her hometown. She works tirelessly to support her children, her sisters and old parents back home, unconcerned about people who comment about her taking up a manly job.
When asked whether she feels she was married off too early, she laughs. ‘There was no concept of seeking permission. Girls were scared of growing up because once you were tall enough, it meant you were ready to be a woman and manage your own house and husband.’
Sultana battled her own set of circumstances. Despite belonging to a conservative Muslim household in Midiapur (West Bengal), she and her sister lost their parents and maternal grandmother so early on in their lives, that their choices and way of life were beyond reproach.
‘I’ve done it all. From working in the entertainment industry to a garment workshop to a gold and silver setting company to being a caterer, and now a security guard, my driving force has always been to support my sister and her four daughters. We only have each other. If people would ever tell me it isn’t right to wear make up or dress like a man or stay unmarried, I would just challenge them and say, fine, give me money, take care of my family and I’ll stop all of it!’
The strategy seems to have worked because at 26, she is living life on her own terms. In fact; she has even put her marriage on hold and has a fiancé patiently waiting back home, someone she was promised to as a child. She refuses to take the plunge without doing what she can for her family first. ‘It’s not the right time yet,’ she says, with a steely look in her eyes.
Vandana Sardar is a lucky woman. It was her husband who secured an interview for her at the Kohinoor City Phase 2 Society where she works as a security guard. ‘He has always been such a big support. Even my son,’ she beams.
‘I couldn’t continue my studies after the 10th standard due to financial constraints. That pinches, even now,’ she says, rubbing her palm with a wistful, faraway look. ‘I did a mehendi course but didn’t get far. Then my husband and son encouraged me to take up this job and I’m glad I did.’ Just goes to show how far a little bit of support can go. And that distance needn’t necessarily be measured by the importance of what you do or how much you earn. It reflects in a sort of inner confidence that one exudes. It comes from the acknowledgement and reassurance that your voice and your space in the world matters to someone, and that makes everything worthwhile.
There are long, strenuous hours of watching and waiting, making records of movements, sometimes running errands but at all times staying alert and vigilant. In a way; women are innately programmed to protect and preserve. Then it’s only befitting that a woman be allowed the opportunity to make her mark in this role which was formerly reserved for men like so much else in society.
Asked if they feel there is a difference between the way they are treated vis-à-vis their male counterparts, they speak in unison that there is no such thing. ‘Times have changed,’ says Sultana. ‘For me it doesn’t matter what roles are defined for men or women as I have to do everything.’ Manju nods in agreement. ‘They treat us the same. Sometimes, if there is a ruckus or a fight, we call the management for help. I think women residents also feel better interacting with us if they need anything.’
It’s a human tendency to want to make sense of the world, to find a pattern or cohesion, some reason to explain why things are the way they are. What then is the common, unifying element that has driven these women, some from very small towns; to realise their destinies in unfamiliar cities, become iconoclasts in a most unassuming way and have the courage to live by their choices? Economics? Circumstances? Deprivation? Responsibilities? Dreams? It could be one or a combination of all, but what matters is that they fought hard and continue to.
What is that one thing you really want to do for yourselves, I ask them. They giggle and speak of a dream home, where there’s no sharing and they aren’t answerable to anyone. A plcae that’s safe and secure and happy. Of course they have other dreams. ‘I want to complete my studies. Oh! And live in Goa,’ says Vandana, her eyes beaming. ‘I want a catering business of my own, with my name on it. I’ll do it one day, ‘ promises Sultana, and I believe her. Manju whispers excitedly, scarcely breathing, ‘I want to go to America! Sab jaate hain, Main bhi jaoongi!’ she chuckles.
These three hard working women full of humour, hope and determination have come so far and somewhere between having their books taken from them early on to making decisions for their families, they grew up. The most incredible thing is that none of them carry bitterness within. They smile and work hard, take orders but giggle behind the supervisors back. They are the kind of women that make me want to celebrate women every single day of the year. I bet you’ve cringed on innumerable occasions when women have been referenced only to highlight how weak or dramatic we are. Well, it’s time to say it all again, but louder and with pride. Walk like a girl. Run like a girl. Dress like a girl. Dance like a girl ..and how can we forget the latest entry to the fold…Protect like a girl!
Richa is a Ted X speaker, an award-winning writer, columnist, ex-journalist and advertising professional. She has authored four books of which three are being adapted for screen. She is a blogger and travel read more...
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I recommend reading Manjiri Indurkar's Origami Aai alongside her memoir to have a fulfilling and enriching experience of telling one's story with grace.
It’s All In Your Head, M famed author Manjiri Indurkar’s debut poetry collection, Origami Aai, is independent and yet an extension of her memoir in which she speaks with utmost grace about all forms of abuses that she has survived. In this book of intriguing and evocative poems, the poet weaves words to form images of the everyday life of her middle-class family, love found and lost, trauma, and healing.
The collection is divided into four segments, beginning with the family, slowly moving towards the world, and finally colliding them together.
We aren’t in mourning, but we are creatures of habit.
So we talk of each one who died of drowning,
and I listen to her stories with the patience
of a chronicler.
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Ah, no prizes for guessing the infamous “itni bhi feminist” or “too much feminism” phrase, a classic eye-roller for me, and I am sure for many more of my tribe, in the realm of gender equality discussions.
Pray tell me, how can an ideology, a movement be too ‘much’? It’s not salt or the seasoning of your soup where you can go, “Oops, too much salt, only one spoon was required”. Either you stand for what feminism stands for, or you don’t.
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