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Activist on mission to cut Gordian knot of superstition by ridding women of their matted hair and stigma

Many followers of Hinduism wear dreadlocks as a physical sign of their faith as they believe that such hair is sacred.

By: PTI | Pune |
Updated: August 1, 2022 9:41:29 am
An elderly woman with matted hair. (PTI Photo)

For activist Nandini Jadhav, cutting the “sacred” matted hair of women and girls is perhaps an easier thing to do as compared to what precedes it: persuading them and their family members to get it done.

Counselling and explaining to them that the practice of growing the dreadlocks or ‘jata’, as called in the local language, is nothing more than superstition is the most challenging task that Jadhav has to successfully complete before she picks up a pair of scissors. And she has done it at least 250 times so far, thereby freeing individuals not only of the burden of their hardened lock of hair they carried for years, but also reducing the health hazards caused by it and removing the stigma attached to it.

Many followers of Hinduism wear dreadlocks as a physical sign of their faith as they believe that such hair are sacred. There is a belief that the ‘jata’ is a divine thing and cutting it would attract the wrath of gods and goddesses.

Jadhav said that in some communities, a girl or young woman with ‘jata’ is compelled to become a ‘jogti’ or ‘devadasi’ (one who serves a deity or a temple for the rest of her life) by self-proclaimed gurus, who are generally transgenders.

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“Usually, matted hair is a result of poor physical hygiene, absence of proper hair care, including regular washing and combing. When some ‘dreadlock’ is found in the hair, it is linked to the superstitious belief that such matted hair are blessings and cutting them could invite the wrath of a goddesses,” she said.

Jadhav, a beautician by profession, is an active member of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), earlier headed by Dr Narendra Dabholkar, who was shot dead in August 2013.

“I joined the MANS following the death of Dr Dabholkar. After being associated with the anti-superstition mission for a couple of years, I decided to use my professional expertise to fight the superstition linked to matted hair,” she said.

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Jadhav said that in 2014-15, she came across a bank manager’s wife having matted hair.

“When we met her family members, who were educated, they were not ready to cut the dreadlocks saying that if they do so, misfortune might befall on them. We came to know that due to the woman’s matted hair, her relationship with her husband was strained and she would never step out of home,” she added.

After hours of counselling, the family finally agreed to cut the ‘jata’ and today they are living a fulfilling life, she added.

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Shilpa, who works in Pune, said her mother recently got rid of the matted hair after 20 long years and today she is leading a normal life.

“When a ‘jata’ was found in my mother’s head, people told my father that if he removed it, she might die. My father then decided not to cut it and allowed it to grow,” she said.

Her matted hair grew so long that they almost touched her feet, she said, adding that due to the dreadlocks weighing around two kilograms, the blood circulation to her brain got affected.

“A doctor had said that due to the dreadlocks, the blood circulation is getting weakened and she would be prone to paralysis. After that, we decided to get rid of the matted hair and met Jadhav madam, who finally freed her from it,” she added.

Shilpa said her engagement broke after the man, whom she planned to tie the knot with, got to know about her mother’s matted hair.

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Jadhav said that a few years ago, they received a call from a village where a girl named Harshada was sporting ‘jata’ and she was about to become a ‘devadasi’.

“We reached out to the family and counselled her mother. The woman was adamant and told us that her husband is no more and if she cuts the ‘jata’ of her daughter, her son would die,” she recalled.

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The girl, who had left her school education midway, was almost numb due to her matted hair. Her head was infested with lice and stinking.

“Her family told us that if any girl going through her menstrual cycle touches her, she gets a fever. But we told them that it happens because of the infection caused by her matted hair. We kept counselling the family and removed the ‘jata’ of the girl. When I cut the dreadlock, lice were found even under the layers of scalp,” she said.

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Jadhav said she has so far removed the dreadlocks of 250 persons across 18 districts in the state.

“Since 2014, I have snapped the matted hair of people ranging from a six-year-old to a 40-year-old. The dreadlocks were also of varying sizes – from small to almost nine feet long,” said Jadhav.

Anjali D from Mumbai, who sported ‘jata’ for about eight years, said several misconceptions about it were spread by the people around her.

“I used to find it difficult to go outside, attend any religious or social events and festivals due to dreadlocks. Physically also, I used to suffer a lot. However, after being counselled, I decided to get rid of my matted hair. Today I am leading a healthy and normal life as a big burden has been removed,” the 57-year-old homemaker said.

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First published on: 31-07-2022 at 03:36:57 pm

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