Shalini Saksena speaks with Veena Gupta, founder of Seam Group Services, on what it takes to be a woman bodyguard and the challenges that come with it
Tell us about yourself.
There is so much to tell and say. I come from a middle-class family; born and brought up in Delhi; we are six siblings — I am the third eldest. As a child I was rebellious, strong-headed and a tomboy. I had formed a gang to protect other girls. Other girls would come up to me with a complaint that a boy had teased them. I would go and bash up that guy. I wanted to be a cop or join the forces but I got rejected due to my height. So after completing my graduation from Jesus and Mary College I did my PG in Hotel Management from South Delhi Polytechnic and worked with various 5-star properties in and around Delhi-NCR before I started working for a security firm in 2000 since it was always my dream to protect others.
Why did you choose to be a protection officer (bodyguard)?
My job in the hotel was in banquet sales. This meant that whenever there was a party I had to stay back. I was looking for a 9 am to 5 pm job. I had a small baby and a home to look after. I went for an interview with a security firm; the job they had to offer was that of a bodyguard. The person who interviewed me was British; he was sceptical whether I would be able to do the job — I was a mother and a woman. But I took the job as a challenge and within six months I proved that I could be the best bodyguard that they had. Over the next few years, I trained myself in various martial art forms and self-protection techniques. I am also a first-level instructor in Krav Maga.
What made you start your own company?
After working for almost eight years and gaining experience I realised that there was so much that I could give in terms to training and providing better service. So in 2008, I started my venture — Seam Group Services. I had a few clients who would ask for me by name who came with me when I opened the company. That helped me get a strong foothold.
What about family support?
My family wanted to know who would be protecting me when I would leave late at night to receive clients. My one foot was always out of the home but that didn’t mean that I neglected my duties. To begin with, my husband was also not very happy. But he soon realised that I was not going to give up my dream and passion. I have a 22-year-old daughter who is my biggest supporter. Even as a child she would encourage me that got me going. Now, at 49, I have a string of clients who want my services and a slew of freelance lady bodyguards who work with me with the same energy and passion that I have. I am in a happy zone.
What are the challenges for a lady bodyguard?
First, it was to convince other women that just because you are working as a bouncer or are a bodyguard doesn’t mean you have to have biceps. I tell them that they need to be fit and know how to defend their clients. Second, Indian clients. When they see a woman bodyguard, they think we are their maids. There have been instances where the CEO’s wife has wanted me to carry her bag. I refused. I told her my job is to protect her which I can’t if my hands are occupied. Third, the other security companies made fun of me. They wanted to know what kind of bodyguard my women and I will prove to be. They think that only men can be hired out as a protection officer. But once a client understands what I do and the kind of service I provide, they come back to me time and again. Four, people looked at me with scepticism if I would be able to do my work.
What are your charges?
It depends on what the client wants. Most of them are foreigners who know what it takes to work in this industry. If they ask for me per se — as an assignment manager, I charge $600-$1,000 per project. But this may vary on the time frame and what is it that they are looking for. For Indian clients, the charges are Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 for 24 hours. We also take on work for four to six hours. For this, we charge around Rs 5,000. But again, it depends on the kind of service the client wants.
How do you ensure that you blend in?
It depends on where the client is going. If he is going for a meeting, we wear a saree. We don’t want people to know that the person has a security detail. Our job is to protect the client not attract attention to ourselves. If it is a party, we drop the client and remain outside until he returns. If the party is at a public place and the client wants us to be there, inside the venue, we demand an NoC from the host and wear party clothes. But we don’t wear any jewellery. We don’t wear skirts. We keep our hair tied. We wear comfortable shoes. If it is an outstation assignment, we wear jeans, sneakers, a T-shirt and a jacket. We ensure that we look professional at all times. Our job is to protect the client not to look glamourous.
What happens if a client wants the protection officers to carry a gun?
Protection officers who can carry a gun need a special license — for protection of others. While women in my team don’t have the license. But if the client wants, we do provide protection officers who can carry a gun. There have been a few instances where I have provided this strive to my clients.