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Debunked: The 'Haircutting Ghosts' of India

The Mewat region of India


Over the past two weeks, 15 women in the Mewat region of the North Indian state of Haryana have reported having their braids mysteriously chopped off in the night, leaving villagers in a state of panic. One Indian news site states:

Most women claimed to have fallen unconscious when their braids were chopped off leading to the villagers blaming godmen, ghosts, witches and "cat-like" creatures.

Sunita Devi, a resident of Ashok Vihar phase-III area, approached the police, claiming that on the night of July 28 she was attacked by a strange-looking man, in his 60s, when she was alone in her house.


"While I was preparing dinner in the kitchen, I saw a thin man in a red and yellow outfit on the main entrance of my house. When I went to enquire, I saw he was carrying a trident. I told him to go away. He went away and disappeared only to reappear," she claimed.


Sunita said before she could comprehend anything she fell unconscious.


"When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying on the floor and my braid was chopped off," she claimed, adding her house, however, was not ransacked.

 

The rural Mewat region has been referred to as a network of "backward communities", inhabited by deeply spiritual-- and superstitious-- people to whom any unsual experience might be chalked up to the supernatural. In fact, the entire geographical region only has two radio stations, the oldest having been established in 2010. The typical Mewat villager has never posted a Tweet, watched an episode of 'Game of Thrones', or called for an Uber. Most of them have never watched television at all, and most wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg.

Actually, the more I think about it, this sounds like a rather refreshing way of life.

Unfortunately, as so often happens in many "backward communities", the locals are viewed as gullible, naive rubes. This, of course, opens the door to all types of shysters, con artists and unsavory characters who are looking to make a quick buck. And when it comes to making a quick buck in India, one of the most popular methods is by selling one's hair.

Yes, for decades, there has been a booming, thriving human hair market in India, and once you have an understanding of how the multi-billion-dollar-per-year human hair market works, it's easy to put the mystery of India's hair-cutting ghosts to rest.

According to Final Step Marketing, the total global export value of human hair is about $1.2 billion US dollars annually. In 2011, over 16,194 tons of human hair were harvested for the wig, hairpiece and hair extension industry. Considering how many strands of hair it takes to make a single pound, the mind boggles at just how many heads had to be harvested to come up with over 16 tons of usable hair.

Indian hair has long been considered the "gold standard" when it comes to hair used in wigs and extensions. The reason for this is texture. Since Indian hair tends to be greater in diameter than Caucasian and European hair, manufacturers can chemically alter it in order to produce a wide variety of textures and colors. In other words, you can take Indian hair and process it to make it look and feel like Caucasian hair, but you can't take finer, thinner Caucasian hair and process it to make it look like Indian hair.

If you go online and shop for human hair extensions, most of the product descriptions will state "100% Remy Indian Hair", which indicates that the hair has been chemically processed.On the other hand, hair marketed as a "virgin hair" means that the hair has not been chemically processed.

The versatility of Indian hair is reflected in the cost. It can be purchased at a much lower price than European hair. Suppliers often list the place of origin in their product descriptions, and, as a general rule of thumb, Russian hair (being finer in texture) tends to be the most expensive, and Indian hair is the cheapest, with Italian hair being somewhere in the middle. In general, the cost of blonde Caucasian hair is roughly three times the cost of brown or black Indian hair.

Another reason for the low cost of Indian hair is availability. Quite simply, there are a lot of people in India.

Just a few decades ago, there were less than a dozen companies in the US selling human hair extensions. Today, there are hundreds. At one time, going to the salon for hair extensions would have set you back around $2,000-$3,000 but now, due to improved manufacturing methods and all-important celebrity endorsements which have shattered the notion of fake hair being 'taboo', a customer can get decent human hair extensions for under $500. Final Step Marketing reports that the hair extension industry in the United States alone has grown 70% over the past five years. Personally, I blame the Kardashians for this.

The increased demand for human hair has been a financial boon for women in impoverished parts of the world. Today, women from Malaysia, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and dozens of other countries can earn a respectable income from selling their hair. Unfortunately, since it takes time for hair to grow, this can only be done once every so many years.

But what if you're a man who wants to make a quick buck? The answer is simple-- you take the hair from somebody else. You can either do this at gunpoint and risk a lengthy prison sentence, or you can hold a chloroform-soaked rag over a woman's face in some backwards rural community and lop off her locks while she's unconscious. The chances of your getting caught are slim, and there's a good chance that the victim will believe that her unconscious spell was the result of magic, witchcraft or hypnotism.

India is the ideal place for this to happen. In 2010, approximately 883 tons of human hair were exported from India. By 2011, that figure exploded to 2,082 tons. While current figures are not yet available I'd be willing to bet that, by 2016, that number had risen to close to 10,000 tons of human hair. Once again, I blame the Kardashians.

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