Radhika Menon

Mumbai, March 7

NEETA Rokade had always dreamt of joining the police force. Coming from a poor economic background and being only a matriculate, her dream got a quiet burial. Then came the break. A year ago, she took up a job as a security guard at the In Orbit mall in Goregaon. Her dream "of joining the force" was once again resurrected.

"Being a security guard has made me feel that I have at least partially fulfilled my ambition. Considering that my husband is jobless, I am certainly proud of myself," she says.

In the past three years, malls across Mumbai have seen a steady rise in the number of women security guards. Says Ms Shilpa Phadke, social scientist and head of the Gender and Space project of PUKAR (Partners in Urban Knowledge Action and Research): "A number of malls have begun employing women security guards as they cater to their consumers, who are primarily women. They feel more comfortable having women security guards around the area. Male security guards may seem intrusive in sections that sell inner wear, for instance."

Tops Security agency has a 25,000-strong workforce, of which 2,000 are women. "Our women are employed by the likes of Shopper's Stop, Pantaloon, LifeStyle mall and Asian Heart Hospital," says Arunisha Sengupta of Tops Security.

One such employee is Prachi Desai who has been working as a security guard in a mall for the past one year. "We have to constantly be on the alert. We patrol checkpoints where stocks come in and also the trial room areas," she says.

She recounts an experience where she caught a woman stealing dress material. She had to harness her intuitive detective skills to apprehend the lady in the nick of time. It was a moment that she is proud of.

Neeta is just as proud but she would be happier with a change in the uniform. "The uniforms are not very comfortable. I would have been happier with a salwar kameez or a sari. The caps especially are not tailored for our long hair. Initially, a number of us used to feel very dizzy."

Prachi, however, begs to differ. She likes the uniform as it covers her body and gives her an air of authority. "When you are in uniform, men look at you with respect. When I travel late at night after night shifts, I am no longer afraid. My job has instilled a sense of confidence in me."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 8, 2005)
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