Fragmenting the Body- Part 2- The Human Hair Industry in India

India is one of the key global players in the human hair industry. Indian hair is valued as it is perceived as strong and healthy where ‘virgin hair’, which has not been chemically altered, is in abundance.  Companies export hair to the West where it is used for wigs and hair extensions whilst shorter hair is mainly sold to Chinese firms who extract amino acids from it used to make baking goods.

The Venkateshwara temple in southern India is home to many pilgrims who shave their hair for the God of Vishnu. Over 18 million visit every year to pay their respects to an incarnation of Vishnu whilst hundreds of barbers work to cut their hair.  In Hindu tradition, hair is considered a more valuable donation to God than money. As visitors leave, their hair is gathered and sold. More than 75 tonnes of hair is sold annually raising nearly £4 million for the temple. Money funds accommodation and other facilities for the pilgrims as well as other charities which help the area. The temple sees it as a ‘win win’ situation where both businesses and temples benefit. However businesses who export hair benefit much more where hair prices increase ten times over. David Gold, head of hair extension company, Great Lengths, believes that hair is as valuable as gold, silver and platinum because the demand is far greater than the supply. When asked about not compensating the women giving their hair, he argues that they would not want money as they would give up their hair regardless to collectors who go through villages.

Similar to the organ trade, the commodification of the body defies its ‘sacredness’ particularly in the ritualistic act of pilgrimage. Religion and business fuse together through the medium of body fragmentation. Values of religious purity and sacrifice are exploited through body commodification. The video below explores the industry in more detail:

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