Sikhs Aren’t Supposed To Cut Their Hair. So Having A Chop Isn’t Just Emotional – It’s Political Too

Three Sikh women who were taught not to cut their hair from birth explain what happened when they did


by Isabella Silvers |
Published on

We’ve all had that moment, when you're sat in the hairdresser’s chair, slowly watching our hard-grown locks tumble to the floor, shortly followed by a tear rolling down our cheek as we realise that trim we'd asked for has turned into a full blown bob.

But when 27-year-old Kiran Dhendsa had twelve inches snipped off her hair aged 14, she wasn’t upset that her hair wouldn't look good for school the next day – she was petrified of her family's reaction. 'I just kept thinking "my mum’s going to kill me",' she tells The Debrief.

Because this was wasn't just a drastic new look for Kiran, it was her first time ever at the hairdressers. Her family is Sikh, and keeping hair uncut from birth is a commandment of their religion, know as Kesh. 'Hair is a symbol of purity and strength,' Kiran explains.

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In fact, it was only Kiran's desperation over the daily headaches she was getting because her hair weighed so much that finally prompted her parents to relent. 'I was getting headaches all the time. It was agony. I felt completely trapped by my hair,' she says. And after a fuse blew on her hairdryer after overheating and left her with a half head of heavy wet hair she finally snapped. 'I told my dad I couldn't take it anymore. I was so upset and luckily he saw how frustrated I was and finally agreed I could cut it.'

Whilst, it's becoming increasingly common for young female Sikhs to choose to cut their hair for personal, aesthetic or medical reasons, the reaction from their families and community can still be very different depending on how strictly they follow the religion.

For Kiran, it was her mum's reaction that surprised her the most. 'She cried for two hours when I got back from the hairdresser and I didn't speak to her for a fortnight,' she recalls.

Finally, her mum relented when Kiran explained why she'd made her decision. 'As soon as you start school, how you look becomes far more important than what parents think,' she says. 'While I was growing up there was a real trend for short styles, and naturally I wanted to be a part of it. At the moment there are more actresses and models in the press with super long hair so maybe girls now wouldn't feel the same pressure.'

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Of course it's not the same for all young women. For 23-year-old Ravneet, it was in fact her religious mother who decided for her that her hair was 'getting too long to handle'. And so one Wednesday afternoon when she was 12, she arrived home from school, was taken into the garden, and given her first haircut. 'There was no discussion process; it was just straight to the kitchen scissors,' she says. 'My first reaction was that I liked the feeling of my head being so light, but when I saw the hair on the floor I thought, what are people going to say? I remember it being really upsetting.'

Other young women feel their hair is part of their identity and so could never cut it. Surpreet Sachdeva, 22, has an emotional relationship with hers. 'When you read about the history of Sikhism, our hair plays such an important role. When we were targeted for our religion, Sikhs were tortured by being told to cut their hair and shave their beards. People sacrificed their lives rather than give in,' she says. 'And so my hair represents that. I spend more time on it than anything else on my body. It’s a part of who I am.'

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Follow Isabella On Twitter: @Izzymks

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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