India's bouncers no longer forced to deliver takeaways as borders reopen

Return of international travellers means return of steady wages for many door staff and security guards – but fear of job losses still looms

Splitting up fights and turning away gatecrashers – the life of a bouncer is never easy.

But for India’s door staff, the Covid-19 pandemic cut their steady income as jobs in security and private protection evaporated with lockdowns, cancelled events and businesses closing.

Airports grounded flights and foreign tourists requiring security – armed and unarmed – stopped coming. Work at concerts, events and big weddings also dried up.

Now though, as India's borders reopen to foreign tourists from more than 90 countries, nightclubs and venues start to operate with fewer restrictions and footfall gradually increases, bouncers say they are hopeful of a return to normality.

India's traditional wedding season also appears to be roaring back, with 2.5 million ceremonies booked over the next month alone. Many of these large gatherings will require security.

Muscular bouncer Sharad Jain, 38, of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, is one of tens of thousands of security staff grateful to again be facing off against overeager revellers.

Before the pandemic, he says he provided security for American rapper Pitbull as well as many Indian celebrities. But when the lockdown hit, he lost his job.

“I was working at a building as the chief security officer for seven years,” he told The National. “I earned 40,000 rupees ($539) a month. But when the pandemic hit, I lost my stable job. My life suddenly turned upside down.

“We managed to survive on savings for a few months, feeding ourselves but there was no money to pay the house rent. I live with my parents, wife and two-year-old daughter.

“I had to take a loan from people. I was in debt of 60,000 rupees. I was so desperate that when the Delhi government opened liquor shops, I worked as a bouncer there as there were huge crowds to manage.”

When the pandemic hit India, some bouncers turned to work in the shops that remained open or started delivering takeaway food on small motorbikes. Others left the cities and returned to their villages to plough fields. Some had to borrow money from friends.

“For bouncers, it was a tough time,” said Anubhav Khiwani, owner of Denetim Services in Delhi, which provides security for businesses and armed and unarmed protection for wealthy citizens and foreign visitors.

“A lot of these bouncers and security guards had migrated to the cities. They had to go back to the villages," he told The National.

"From all cities, the labourers, the construction workers, the security guards, all these working-class people returned home to their villages, their farmland, so they could survive. How will they live if they are getting no money and no food in cities? The trains were shut, the buses were shut, everything was closed.”

Before the pandemic, Denetim’s business was up 25 per cent year-on-year, with a growing client list. Pictures of famous faces, including The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney, adorn the company’s website, alongside Indian celebrities including the late Rishi Kapoor.

But when the country was locked down, Denetim’s turnover halved, Mr Khiwani told The National.

“Welcome to life. It just goes on,” said the 37-year-old cheerfully.

Some of his staff could not afford to be so positive.

“I had no work for months. It was a very difficult time. All my savings had dried up,” said Mohit Chaprana, 34, of New Delhi.

Five years ago, Mr Chaprana was helping his father to run his mobile shop when he switched to working as a bouncer after getting into bodybuilding.

“I was a gym freak and this job pays decent money,” said Mr Chaprana, who supports his parents as well as his wife and two sons, 11 and nine.

“I was working with a paper mill owner as a bouncer and driver before the pandemic for over a year. My salary was 22,000 rupees plus overtime. It was a decent sum for me.

“When the pandemic hit, there was a sudden lockdown and my boss asked me to stop coming to work. It was so sudden I did not know what to do. I lost my job.

“I have children to look after, my old parents to take care of but I had no money to even feed them. It was the worst phase of my life. I was shattered.”

Without money to pay for schooling, Mr Chaprana persuaded his children’s school to continue classes without fees.

“They agreed for a few months but then I had to take them out of the school,” he said.

“I was desperate. I drove motorbikes to deliver food for eight to 10 hours a day, but that wasn’t enough. When the lockdown was relaxed later – in October last year – I joined a showroom as a security officer but there was another lockdown this year and I was again out of work.”

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy reported that about 21 million people lost their jobs between April and August 2020. It said more than 1.5 million people became jobless in August 2021 alone.

India lost 15.45 trillion rupees of retail trade during its peak Covid-19 period during April and May 2021, industry body Confederation of All India Traders said.

But Mr Jain, who owed 60,000 rupees, was able to clear his loan.

“Thankfully I have repaid [the loan] since starting work again,” he said. “I have started working on events, mainly weddings, and will be joining my past job in December. I get 2,500 rupees per day for eight hours at events.

“I am hopeful that now with India opening up borders for foreigners, I will get more work and earn more.”

But the threat of another wave of coronavirus – and another lockdown – remains.

“I am happy that the world is opening up again but there is always this fear of instability," said Mr Chaprana, who started a new job in September as a bouncer and driver for a factory owner in Delhi.

“The future is unpredictable and there are still many cases of Covid in the city. Now, there are talks of a lockdown to control pollution in the city. I am worried about losing my job again.”

Updated: November 22nd 2021, 3:09 AM