The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Temple snips lady barbers
- Gender wars rage in the neighbourhood: hair here, race there

Hyderabad, May 21: Welcome lady devotees, keep off lady barbers.

Women worshippers who want to offer their locks to Lord Balaji have to bear with the “roving eyes” of male barbers after the Tirumala Tirupati Board, which two months ago had decided to appoint 100 lady barbers, suddenly developed cold feet.

Under pressure from a section of priests and unions of male barbers, the temple board yesterday decided against going ahead with the move.

The chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, Congress leader T. Subbirami Reddy, said the board had accepted the recommendation of the five-member Agama committee on temple dos and don’ts which forbade appointment of women barbers.

The committee’s point was women, according to Hindu tradition, are forbidden to be in religious service because of their menstrual cycle.

The board’s earlier decision came after women devotees of the lord said they were uncomfortable with male barbers.

K. Rukmini, who visited Tirupati last week and tonsured her head, said she was “very uncomfortable” with the male barbers. “First of all, their eyes keep roving all over our body even as they keep running the razor on our scalp,” said the resident of Medak, about 80 km from Hyderabad.

Poornima Rao, a software engineer who was in Tirupati last month, said she refused to shave her hair as she did not like the look of the 35-year-old barber. “I had my hair cut by my sister and dropped it in the temple box,” she said.

After some instances of “harassment”, the board began employing males over 40 at the kalyana kattas (tonsuring centres) for women.

Punyavati, the chief of the Andhra Pradesh wing of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said the temple board’s decision was faulty and anti-women.

“The temple has no mechanism to check whether women under menstrual cycle were visiting and allegedly polluting the sanctity of the temple. Then how can a few lady barbers cause harm to the Agama traditions'”

P. Sandhya, president of the Andhra-based Progressive Organisation of Women, wondered why the board went back on its decision after accepting the representations of women worshippers.

“Perhaps, there is something fishy. I think it is not the Agamas which have come in the way but lust for money of the male barbers and their chiefs,” she said.

Over 1,000 male barbers are employed by the temple to serve devotees who come from all corners of the country and demand service at all hours.

Everyday, 5,000 to 10,000 men and around 2,000 women shave their heads as an offering to the deity. “We sold around 1,700 quintals of hair last year,” said the deputy executive officer in charge of the tonsure centres.

Residents of Tirupati say every barber makes as much as Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 in tips and is ready to work for over 10 hours.

“They do not want women to take away a share of their earnings,” said Govind Reddy, a functionary of one of the seven unions operating in the devasthanam.

If India’s richest temple has got in the hair of women devotees, it has decided to keep visitors fresh and cool for darshans. The massive waiting complex of the temple, which has 23 compartments and runs for almost 2 km till the main entrance of the shrine, is to be made air-conditioned.

“It will cost Rs 3.45 crore and take almost eight months to complete the work to make the devotees comfortable as they wait for hours to get a glimpse of the deity,” said A.P.V.N. Sarma, the temple’s executive officer.

During peak seasons, devotees have to wait nearly 48 hours for a darshan.

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