Rohini Pawar films the eureka moment where a woman's heavy, dirty dreadlocks of 6 years are being cut and cleaned. It's a new life for Suman Patole, aged 45, who lived through this self-induced suffering.
Revering the dreadlocks as a form of Goddess Bhavani is a strong belief in many parts of central and southern rural India. Removal or washing of these hairlocks is strictly prohibited by the societal norms as it is believed that doing this would bring bad omen on loved ones. And yes, this custom is only for women, not men.
Why do women do this? Rohini says that they do it because growing these dreadlocks elevates their status amongst the family and the community organically. They are instantly termed sacred and special. In a patriarchal society wherein women have zero space to express themselves, entering into "sacred hairlocked" status confers benefits. They now can yell and control thier dominant family members who otherwise control them. During releigious fairs these women behave as possessed by supernatural entities, thereby having the freedom to yell, cry and dance which a normal woman could just dream of, thus releiving their past life frustrations.
Rohini Pawar joined Videovolunteers in 2010; since then, she has made many strong gender videos. She was approached in February 2012 by Bharat Gyan Vigyan Sangathan (BGVS) , an org that strive for social transformation through Science and Knowledge by enabling the people to realise the cause of their sufferings and come out of this by understanding their rights and responsibilities. They had seen her online videos and asked her to help them make videos against the prevailing superstitions in rural community. It was here when rohini learnt about the superstition on hairlocks and how to resolve it. However she wasn’t new to this concept of dreadlocks. During childhood she had experienced the sight of more than 15 women with heavy dreadlocks acting possessed at her village fair. She was frightened then by the appearance of those women especially the hair but did knew less of the stigma those women lived with.
Suman Patole was one such lady who discovered a small hairlock while she was recovering from her illness. She didn’t bathe during the days she was convalescing . Suman did the expected and thus decided to worship the dreadlocks and not was them henceforth. She was terrified of the threats her children or husband might meet if she washed the locks.
In the following years, she had many episodes of pain because of these dreadlocks. She developed severe lice infestation, wounds and thus frequent fever and illness. Her hair weighed upto 5 kg, due to which she couldn’t perform the daily chores. But she and her family believed that if she were to cut them off, something terrible went to them. So her husband and her two children were on a mission to free her from the cage of these dreadlocks. Her husband 5 times walked hundreds of kilometres to prestigious religious places to offer prayers to end the suffering and begging the goddess to quit from her dreadlocks. Eventually, her elder son got involved with Bharat Gyan Vigyan Sangathan (BGVS) and learnt of the superstitious aspects of this tradition. During these days he was also introduced to YouTube, where he watched several videos criticising this beleif. He screened these videos to Suman, working hard to convince his mother to get rid of the dreadlocks over several months. Considering the concern and affection of the family members, Suman decided to get her dreadlocks cut.
Through this journey, Rohini realised the power to change the lives of many more such women around her. She next aims to convince 4 women of her village with similar dreadlocks and belief for this kind of change.
Video Report by Community Correspondent, Rohini Pawar.
Article by Sameer Malik