Meet Nandini Jadhav, an activist on a mission to cut the Gordian knot of superstition

Pune: Meet Nandini Jadhav, activist on a mission to cut the Gordian knot of superstition | Facebook

For activist Nandini Jadhav, cutting the “sacred” matted hair of women and girls is perhaps an easier matter than what came before – convincing them and their family members to have it done.

Advising them and explaining that growing dreadlocks, or “jata” as they are called in the local language, is nothing more than superstition is the most challenging task that Jadhav has to successfully complete before she takes up the scissors.

And she’s done it at least 250 times so far, not only relieving people of the burden of years of hardened strands of hair, but also reducing the health hazards it causes and removing the stigma associated with it.

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

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

“Typically, matted hair is the result of poor personal hygiene, lack of proper hair care, including regular washing and combing. If some dreadlocks are found in the hair, it is linked to the superstitious belief that such matted hair is a blessing and that cutting it might invoke the wrath of a goddess,” she said.

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

“I am with the MANS after the death of Dr. Joined Dabholkar. After being associated with the anti-superstition mission for a number of years, I decided to use my professional expertise to help combat the superstitions surrounding matted hair,” she said.

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

“When we met her family members, who were educated, they were unwilling to cut their dreadlocks and said that then bad luck might come to them. We learned that due to the woman’s matted hair, her relationship with her husband was strained and would never leave home,” she added.

After hours of deliberation, the family finally agreed to abolish the ‘jata’ and today they live full lives, she added.

Shilpa, who works in Pune, said her mother recently got rid of the matted hair after 20 long years and now leads 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 let it grow,” she said.

Her matted hair had grown so long that it was almost touching her feet, she said, adding that the five-pound dreadlocks impeded blood flow to her brain.

“A doctor had said that the circulation was weakened by the dreadlocks and that she would tend to become paralyzed. After that we decided to get rid of the matted hair and met Ms Jadhav who eventually got rid of it.” She added.

Shilpa said their engagement broke up after the man she was planning to tie the knot with found out about her mother’s matted hair.

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

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

The girl, who dropped out of school halfway through, was almost stunned by her matted hair. Her head was infested with lice and stank.

“Her family told us that she gets a fever when a girl who is going through her menstrual cycle touches her. But we told them it is because of the infection caused by her matted hair. of the girl. When I cut the dreadlocks, lice were found even under the layers of the scalp,” she said.

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

“Since 2014, I’ve snapped the matted hair of people from the ages of six to 40. The dreadlocks also varied in size — from small to nearly two meters long,” Jadhav said.

Anjali D from Mumbai, who wore jata for about eight years, said some misconceptions about it were spread by people around her.

“I used to find it difficult to go outside, attend religious or social events and festivals because of dreadlocks. I also suffered a lot physically. However, after a consultation, I decided to get rid of my matted hair. Today I lead a healthy and normal life as a great burden has been lifted from me,” said the 57-year-old housewife.

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