Every morning, in the village of Banwari Tola in Kushinagar district, Deepak
(17) and Raju (15) unlock the doors of their barbershop and get ready for business. Customers get the usual haircut, shave and, sometimes, head massage from the two “boys”.
Only, Deepak is actually Jyoti, and Raju is Neha, two sisters, who, facing starvation after their father was paralysed by a stroke, began running the shop five years ago. To get around social criticism and unwanted attention from men, the sisters began to dress and talk like boys in public. As they grew older, it became difficult to hide the fact that they were girls. But instead of heading back home to save themselves from the advances of their completely male clientele, they dug in their heels.
“It began five years ago when our father Dhruv Narayan was paralysed,” said Neha. “It was a desperate situation. Our family of five was almost penniless and we were starving. Our father was not recovering from the stroke. So one day, we carried him to the shop, opened the doors, cleaned the floor and mirrors, and waited for customers. We have not looked back ever since.”
It has been an uphill struggle all the way for the girls. “When we started, we knew we had to take precautions. So we cut our own hair first and changed our names. We acted like boys as much as possible, but after a while it was impossible to hide our gender. We were exposed and people publicly criticised us. Some even suggested that we should die instead of cutting men’s hair,” said Jyoti.
Some of the criticism came from the girls’ own family members. “Our four elder sisters are married, and their husbands were also against us working in what they said was a male profession. But we became barbers out of compulsion, not choice. There was nothing else we could have done to feed our family,” said Jyoti.
The sisters have not only managed to keep their family afloat, they also went to school in addition to working at the shop. But their financial situation forced Jyoti to quit studies after Class 12, while Neha left school after Class 10.
The shop is doing well these days by local standards, and they dream of opening a beauty parlour someday. An average day’s earning is between Rs 400 and Rs 500 and the sisters today draw a big crowd of loyal customers. One of them is Ram Dulare (60). “I have been a regular customer here for years. They give the best haircuts, work hard and charge reasonable prices. I only came to know they were girls some days ago. It does not matter,” said Dulare.
Rakesh Gupta (45), also from a neighbouring village, said, “I heard of the shop from my neighbours and decided to visit. I am very happy with my haircut. They know their job very well.” Gupta had no idea that his barber, Raju, was a girl.
The parents, Dhruv Narayan and Lilawati, are proud of their daughters. “My daughters are priceless. They are worth more than most sons are. I do not care what other people say. Nobody helped us when we needed it. Now the girls want to open a beauty parlour and I support them,” Narayan said.
Kushinagar joint district magistrate Abhishek Pandey and local MLA Mani Tripathi have visited the family, given them a cash award and promised the girls help with their dreams for a salon.