Tonsure to torture? Bald pates in hair-raising media focus
Feb 5: A series of cases of shaving heads bald, involving students in continents apart, and married women in India’s cow belt, have made hair-raising media headlines, including on front and editorial pages. They are bound to be in focus as babus and netas wake up to the situation and issue show-cause notices and notifications and the legislatures, now assembling for the budget sessions, amending laws to include tonsuring as a cognizable offence or issue ordinances – as is fashionable of late. And the social media will have its own upheaval. But, first the facts.
According to a report in The New Indian Express (2-2-15) titled “School caught in controversy over tonsuring boys”, a parent of two students of St Joseph’s Indian High School has alleged that the school authorities punished his two boys by tonsuring their head. Sebastian Augustine, father of two of the children whose head was tonsured, said the school had done this without his permission. While his elder son Charlie (name changed) is in the 10th standard, his younger son Sunil (name changed) is in the 8th. The two were staying with about 45 other children in St Louis Hostel, located in the St Joseph’s Indian High School compound on Vittal Mallya Road (Bangaluru).
The complaint says 12 children were tonsured as punishment for various reasons by the school authorities without the permission of the guardians.
According to Charlie, on January 27, he returned to the school after the Republic Day weekend. “When I walked in, thel warden grabbed hold of me to shave off my hair. When I asked him why, he did not give any reason”, he said. Charlie believes that his head was tonsured because he had bunked classes. On January 30, the same thing was done to his younger brother Sunil, he said.
Sandeep Patil, DCP (Central), under whose jurisdiction the school falls, said in the complaint Augustine has not mentioned the reason for the tonsure and has simply said tonsuring was a violation of child rights. “There are different versions with regard to why the students’ heads were tonsured. While some say it was because of lice, others say that it was because the students bunked classes, and still others say that during the holidays, they had styled and dyed their hair,” Patil said.
The police have accepted the parent’s complaint and are consulting legal experts to see if tonsuring children’s heads constituted violation of child rights.
Fr Anil, rector for the institution, said, “Three students had gone to Velankanni over the Christmas holidays and shaved off their hair there. We tonsured the hair of five boys when we found that they had lice. We asked the boys if we could arrange for a barber and once they had consented, we tonsured their head,” he said. When asked if the school had sought the permission of parents before doing so, Fr Anil said as the children were in boarding, the school was given responsibility for them. “We ensure their cleanliness and hygiene along with discipline. The parents have entrusted them to our care and we take care of them,” he said.
Mohammad Mohsin, Commissioner for Public Instruction, said such physical punishment is not right. “We will ask for an explanation from the school. A show-cause notice will be issued on Monday. We have to find out who is responsible for this and we will take action,” he said.
The second case is from far off England as reported by BBC (30-1-15) under the title “Teenager isolated over cancer charity haircut”.
Stan Lock, 14, a pupil at Churchill Academy, North Somerset, said he wanted to raise funds for Macmillan (Cancer Support) “because cancer affects so many people”. He got the “number one” haircut.
Head teacher Dr Barry Wratten said Stan had been in “isolation” for three days but this would now “be reviewed”.
Stan said he had been in isolation because his head teacher “did not approve” of the haircut. His mother Melanie Rees said she was “incredibly proud” of what her son had done. “I’d hoped the school would have shown some element of judgement and would have made an exception,” she said.
“Stan’s been overwhelmed with messages of support from his friends.” Stan’s stunt had raised more than £200 on Friday (30-1-15) morning but that figure has now gone up to more than £4,000.
Macmillan Cancer Support said it “cannot comment on individual school policies” but was “very grateful to Stan for his fundraising efforts, which will make a real difference to the lives of people affected by cancer”.
A petition to have the teenager reinstated into class has attracted more than 600 signatures and the Free Stan Lock Facebook page has been “liked” more than 500 times.
The school’s website says that pupils with “extreme hairstyles will be isolated” and that “very short hair or hair with designs cut in will be considered extreme”. It said students who “failed to comply” with its uniform regulations “will be challenged” and that the school hoped “it would receive the support of parents in sorting things out quickly”.”However, if the problem is not rectified the student will be educated in isolation from their peers,” the school website said.
The third report on the subject comes from Lucknow, UP, filed by Sanjay Panday for Deccan Herald (3-2-15) titled “Man shaves wife’s head, parades her in village”.
Sunita Devi (name changed) had been given strict instructions from her husband never to take off her “pallu”. On Sunday (1-2-15), however, the pallu accidentally slipped while she was cooking. This angered her husband, Munna, so much that he dragged her by the hair, shaved her hair and paraded her in the village after thrashing her in full public view. “Now you will not be able to attract the men…you are no longer beautiful”, said Munna. Said a villager: “Munna always used to force his wife to cover her head and face while going out as well as in the house. He would often tell her that other men might get attracted to her if she revealed her face.”
Such reports are not uncommon from UP. For instance, an earlier report of August 7, 2012 titled “Man shaves ‘unchaste’ wife’s head”, said: Dubbing his wife of 25 years ‘unchaste’, a man allegedly shaved her head and then paraded her in the village, in full public view along with his relatives in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district. The hapless woman kept pleading with her tormentors, who included her brother-in-law and a schoolteacher, but it fell on deaf ears. No one from the village also dared to come to her rescue.
Tonsure of the head does not always mean punishment and humiliation. In all religions, tonsure is associated with sacrifice, humility and more. Among Hindus, for instance, tonsure is also associated with mourning on the death of close relatives. But, tonsure evokes images of thousands lining up at Tirupati temple and the resulting cut hair is a great source of revenue for the temple. Going beyond this collateral bounty, what is behind the tonsures at Tirupati temple?
When Lord Sri Venkatesha (MahaVishnu/Balaji) was inside the snake-anthill on Tirumala, a sacred cow used to come and give milk to the Lord daily (Brahma deva took the form as sacred cow). When a cow-herd man saw the sacred-cow pouring milk in the snake-anthill, he became angry and without understanding the truth, the cow-herd man took an axe and hit the cow on its head with the axe. Lord Sri Venkatesha(Vishnu) who was present inside the snake-anthill received the hurt from the axe on his head from the cow-herd man- instead of cow getting hurt. When Lord received the hurt of the axe on his head, a portion of his hair disappeared due to the impact of the axe. When mother Neela Devi saw the Lord hurt on his head, she immediately removed the hair from her head and placed on the Lord’s head in the space where he was hurt. Immediately the Lord’s hair reappeared as beautiful as before he was hurt. Lord Venkatesha(Vishnu) knowing that hair is one of the beautiful features of women, promised that his devotees will shave their hair and dedicate their hair to her. Neela Devi accepts the hair sacrificed by devotees of Lord Venkatesha and blesses his devotees who sacrifice their hair for the sake of the Lord. This is the reason why devotees tonsure or shave their head in Tirumala (Tirupati).
My own tryst with tonsure goes back to early 1960s. New to Bombay and ignorant of Hindi, I went to a saloon for a pre-Christmas hair-cut. I told the barber “Saaf karo”, instead of “Accha kaaro” as I should have said, and promptly went to sleep in the barber’s chair. When I woke up a little while later, I found that he had done a clean shaving job and my pate was stark bald.
Midnight Christmas Mass at Cooperage Football Ground, with Cardinal Gracias officiating, was the highlight of Bombay’s celebrations. I accompanied my hosts wearing a Muslim cap to cover my bald pate. As I entered the grounds, the Cardinal also made his entry with Dhoordarshan crew in tow. I tried to duck away from the incoming procession; but the TV crew came chasing after me. The news coverage of the event noted: “People from all communities attended the midnight Mass” and the accompanying visual showed me slinking away from the main procession with my Muslim cap on.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have bothered for at the dawn of Christianity Seneca, Roman philosopher and statesman (BC4- AD65), had said: “I don’t consider myself bald; I am just taller than my hair”.
John B Monteiro, author and journalist, has his latest book, Corruption – India’s Painful Crawl to Lokpal, published in USA. Priced at $ 21.5, it can be ordered online from Amazon and other major online distributors.