Don’t wash your hair on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It will bring harm to your brother.

Don’t just throw away those strands of hair. You don’t want to fight with your family, do you?

If you’ve heard similar superstitions associated with hair, the website of the right wing organisation, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, is a good place to swap stories. A detailed post on the site discusses why women who keep their hair loose are at risk of everything from illness to attracting evil energies.

According to the website, when left open, a woman’s hair and the woman herself becomes susceptible to the “Rajas component”. As per Samkhya philosophy, a branch of Hindu thought, the universe has been created from three gunas or components, Sattva, Tamas and Rajas. While Sattva signifies purity and knowledge and Tamas, ignorance and inertia, the Rajas component of the universe is what gives way to “activity and passion”, which according to Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, leads to an “increase in feelings such as depression, worry, increased sexual thoughts leading to promiscuity”.

The website has, in the past, also explored topics like, why women should not cut their hair short or trim their eyebrows (for reasons similar to why they shouldn’t leave it untied). They have directives on how women should wear ornaments and jewellery (reminders to stay faithful to their husbands) along with a general article on hair care, which advises women when they should cut their hair, if at all.

In Hinduism, long hair is a privilege enjoyed by married women. To lovingly care for your hair, oil and perfume it, twist it into hairstyles is forbidden for widows – whose heads are shorn to prevent them from attracting the lust or love of another man.

In the Mahabharata, however, Draupadi defiantly keeps her hair untied and unwashed for 13 years despite being married. After she is dragged out into the royal court by her long tresses and disrobed by Dushasan in front of all gathered, Draupadi is enraged. She vows not to tie her hair until she washes it with Dushasan’s blood, something she is finally aided in doing by her five husbands, none of whom did anything to prevent her public humiliation.

Even now women are encouraged to keep their hair tied because along with inspiring “sexual promiscuity”, loose, unkempt hair likens them to a broken and humiliated Draupadi.

Draupadi dragged by her hair (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Hinduism is not alone in policing women’s hair. Djinns for instance, are believed to be irresistibly attracted to long, flowing, untied hair and perfumes. Most depictions of women who are possessed or evil, like chudails, dayans, or ghouls and witches in horror films, include loose hair.

Lara just drew this and all I can think of is #TheRing. Gulp.

A post shared by Vinoj Zacharia (@vinojz) on

Policing women’s hair is not restricted to mythology and religion. Asking to touch black women’s hair, for instance, is considered racist and is a political issue – women struggle to approximate the stereotype of “good” (long and straight) hair, over their natural curls.

In an article published in Quartz, Marita Golden writes about having her hair braided every other weekend to make it look “presentable” for white people.

“Traditionally in the Black community, mothers were and still are judged by the state of their daughter’s hair. I remember as a child the worst judgments of adult women being reserved for women whose daughters left the house with ‘nappy’ or indifferently braided hair. This was a dereliction of parental duty that was considered nearly a form of child abuse... If you are a Black woman, hair is serious business.”

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks about her hair.

Recently an ad campaign for a Bangladeshi hair oil touched upon the issue of domestic violence, using the analogy that a woman’s hair is equal to her honour and femininity – all of which are ways to control her free will.