Casteism runs deep among a majority of people in Vattavada, a village in Idukki sharing border with Tamil Nadu, so much so that, for years, barbers have been turning away lower-caste clientele. However, thanks to the long struggle by a group of youngsters, politicians and social workers, a public salon has opened its doors to everyone.

In a function held at Koviloor, Devikulam MLA S Rajendran on Sunday inaugurated the public barber shop opened by the Vattavada panchayat authorities for cutting the hair of men belonging to all religions and castes.

Once considered untouchables because of their hereditary occupation as leather makers, the Dalits belonging to the Chakkliya community in Vattavada had been denied access to barber shops by the upper caste men and they were even served tea in separate tumblers or coconut shells in shops. 

Even as bizarre practices like two-tumbler system came to end by 1990, the discrimination prevails in barber shops even now. It was only recently that some Dalit youths from the village decided to complain to the panchayat authorities about the discrimination. 

Despite the move, the barbers refused and said they preferred shutting their shops to cutting the hair of Dalits. Eventually, two barber shops in Vattavada were closed down by the panchayat authorities five months ago. Dalit men from the village continue to get their hair cut at salons in the nearby towns of Munnar or Ellappetty. 

It was in an effort to put an end to the caste bias that the panchayat opened the public barber shop, where a barber with progressive thinking appointed by the authorities will give the services to all. 

Though whether higher caste men will stay away from this salon remains to be seen, Vattavada panchayat president Ramaraj said people belonging to upper castes including himself will get the hair cut at the salon so that it will be a model for others to emulate.

“The panchayat is also undertaking various community-based programmes where uppercastes and Dalits are encouraged to drink and eat together and sit together to study. This is a slow process and we are making our best efforts to change society’s thinking,” he said.

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