The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) plans to offer free haircuts to 1.24 lakh students enrolled in its 372 primary schools across the city as part of a “swachhata campaign”. Under the initiative, once a month, students will be offered free haircuts at schools irrespective of gender, caste or religion.
The AMC school board has approved a year-long agreement with a Pune-based private beauty school, International School of Aesthetics and Spa, popularly known as ISAS Beauty School that runs a branch in Ahmedabad for the initiative. Under the agreement, ISAS has agreed to cut students’ hair after prior appointments and coordination with the authorities and with school principals ensuring no educational activities are disrupted.
Among the conditions in the agreement are keeping religious customs and beliefs in mind and written consent from parents whose students want haircuts at school. The AMC has also ensured that men will cut boys’ hair and women, girls’. Incidentally, fewer girls than boys have agreed to have their hair cut at school so far.
Administrative Officer of the AMC School Board LD Desai calls it an initiative under the “swachhata campaign”. “Since these students are mostly from slum areas, we want to send across a message of cleanliness. There are many students who do not get haircuts very regularly. Thus, providing them a neat haircut, that too of their choice is certainly one of the best initiatives taken by a municipal school board ever,” he said.
Asked if it would act as a leveller, given the recent incident of a barber being beaten up by upper caste men for cutting hair of Dalits, Desai said: “We would not mind if this initiative sends across a social message of equality at an institute like a school where all irrespective of any caste are treated equally. Also, I do not see any reason why parents would say no to a haircut for which they do not have to pay a single rupee.”
Last month, in a village in Satlasana taluka of Mehsana, a barber was assaulted for continuing to serve Dalit clients after being warned by the upper caste men in the village.
Schools have already started seeking permission from parents for this campaign which is to be flagged off in the last week of July. The AMC school board is trying to get an appointment with a minister to launch the initiative with much fanfare at 50 schools in the first phase.
The centre head of the ISAS beauty institute Jayshree Gondaliya said the agreement involves no remuneration of any sort. “Our idea behind this first initiative in Gujarat is to provide premium salon services to AMC students who cannot afford it. Also, the new look will certainly boost their confidence,” she said.
According to the institute, 150 students – almost equally divided between men and women – who are enrolled at ISAS will visit municipal schools for the haircut.
The Indian Express visited a few schools where the process of registering students for the haircut has been completed by principals, after talking to students, parents and teachers. The list indicated that fewer girls opt for the haircut while records show that girls dominate the AMC School Board at 51.59 per cent across the 372 primary schools in six different mediums – Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, English and Tamil.
Kasak Patni, a Class V student at the municipal school in Meghaninagar is among those who opted out. She said, “My father says he wants me to keep my hair long”. Her mother Bhavnaben said they have taken a “vow” not to cut her hair. “We belong to the Devipujak community and have taken a badha (vow) never to cut her hair,” she said. Kasak has a younger brother who studies in a nearby private school and regularly gets a haircut with his father.
Out of 187 students, this Gujarati-medium municipal school from Class I till V has registered 87 students who have consented to the free haircut service among whom only four are girls.
The school principal who requested anonymity, said, “Parents have not given permission to their daughters as they say they would rather have their daughters in braided long hair.”
This sentiment echoes across other municipal schools in Ahmedabad. At the Municipal School in Asarwa, where girls account for 60 per cent of students, not a single girl has opted in. And at two Hindi-medium schools in Meghaninagar, of the 600 students in both schools, barely half have consented – all boys.
A Gujarati-medium municipal school in Meghaninagar running Classes VI-VIII is among the few where girls have agreed. Out of 500 students, 133 have registered – 91 boys and 42 girls.