Delhi’s Female-Only Liquor Store Helps Women Buy Drinks in Good Spirits
A liquor store inside a shopping mall in eastern New Delhi serves only female customers
Priya Sharma drove more than 30 kilometres to get to an exclusive boutique in a teeming New Delhi residential district — a women-only liquor store.
Inside a shopping mall, the store provides a safe environment for women to buy alcohol in a city where harassment and discrimination is a daily battle and many women fear going out at night.
Buying a bottle of wine or whisky on a Saturday night in the Indian capital has always been a fight for position inside a hot and cramped store, where customers — mostly men — scream orders at stressed-out staff.
“I have always avoided going into an alcohol store,” said Sharma, whose name was changed so that her family would not know where she had been.
A survey in 2019 found women in New Delhi have experienced jeering and being shouted at men at liquor stores
“I usually ask someone to get it for me,” she told AFP inside the store with a sign on its glass door reading “Exclusively for ladies”.
“Men judge when women buy and drink alcohol. I can’t deny it,” said a man who accompanied Sharma to the door. The store does let couples in but they are rare.
“That is why we specifically came to this store so that Priya can decide what she wants in an environment where she doesn’t feel uncomfortable.”
The gang-rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus in 2012 sparked weeks of protests and put the spotlight on the treatment of women in India.
Criminal law was toughened for offences against women and across India, while reserved seats for women on buses and metro trains have also become a common sight in cities.
But women in New Delhi are still feeling the prying eyes at off-licences.
Anisha Saigal, 29, said a routine walk from a liquor store to her car or home was an invitation to judge her “moral code of conduct” in a way she had not faced in any other country.
“Even if nothing happens physically, the gaze that follows after women purchase alcohol is unsolicited and disturbing,” she said.
Opened in 2015, the women-only store in eastern New Delhi is believed to be the first and only such shop in India.
“I have been in the business for a very long time and have seen women being uncomfortable at liquor stores,” said Umesh Saxena, the manager of the store.
In New Delhi, harassment and discrimination is a daily battle and many women fear going out at night
“I have had customers tell me they are glad they have this outlet where they don’t have to worry.”
The store sees higher sales in wine and vodka — particular favourites among women.
“This is definitely an enabling environment for women to buy –- without fear -– whatever they want to drink,” said 50-year-old Mimi Choudhury.
Saxena’s employees also believe the store plays an important role in the liquor business in the city of 20 million people.
Staff member Priyanka said she was glad she only has to talk to women.
“If I walk across to the store right across the corridor and buy anything, men will still stare. At least here, I know I’m safe,” she told AFP.