We’ve all probably had our share of hair loss issues this year. But for some people in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, their loss of hair could cause more issues than just bald patches.
Hair agents in Madhya Pradesh collected 1,000 kilograms of human hair worth Rs 5 million ($67,328) for over a year. Then, in a hair-raising twist, it mysteriously went missing on a moving train.
“One hundred fifty people from Madhya Pradesh collect hair door-to-door in the surrounding areas, including Indore, and sell 10 grams of hair for up to Rs 20 ($0.27),” Sunil Ashok Ghumarkar, the hair agent whose hair parcels got stolen, told a local newspaper. According to the agent, he collected 22 sacks of hair, out of which only three reached their destination, while 19 were stolen.
The Railway Protection Force (RPF) is now investigating how hair worth millions of rupees was stolen from the train.
“We are investigating the matter as the parcel was loaded safely from Indore and it is hard to locate where it was unloaded,” Indore railways public relation officer Khemraj Meena told Hindustan Times (HT).
In many parts of the world, people often collect and sell their own hair. This is done by either growing the hair long and cutting it or by collecting strands of fallen hair. This hair is then used to make wigs, hair extensions, eyelashes and beards, though other uses range from being test material for hair care products to use as fertilizer. In India, hair is often collected by agents, who act as mediators between the sellers and buyers.
In this case, the agents were collecting hair to convert it into wigs and hair extensions in the state of West Bengal, before shipping it off to China and Bangladesh, where there is a high demand for wigs. Agents can earn anywhere from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5,000 ($13-$67) for a kilo of hair, while longer strands can fetch a higher price.
While the idea of selling strands of hair may sound straightforward, the process is actually labour-intensive and tedious.
“We have to collect the hairs of women only and it must be minimum 8 inches in length,” Ghumarkar told HT. “We wash it and segregate it according to size which goes up to 14 inches. We make separate packets according to size before supplying it to businessmen in Midnapore (a city in West Bengal).”
India is one of the biggest players in the global hair industry, exporting $255.78 million worth of human hair and related products in 2020, according to data from statistics portal Statista.
In February 2019, India’s Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam temple in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh e-auctioned off 157 tons of hair for $1.6 million to make wigs and extensions. Tonsuring to please the deity is a centuries-old ritual at this temple, which in pre-COVID times saw anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily. It’s noted in the Guinness World Records as the most visited and the richest Hindu temple in the world.
The massive demand for human hair has also fuelled a notorious hair mafia and multiple instances of hair snatching thieves.
In March this year, border authorities busted a hair smuggling operation from India to China through Myanmar, seizing hair worth Rs 20 million ($269,323). This hair was acquired from the Tirupati temple, where barbers shave about 12 million heads every year.
In 2018, two men robbed a wigmaker’s shop in India’s capital Delhi and stole goods worth Rs 400,000 ($5,386). Police found that these men believed they could earn big money by selling wigs, and wanted to set up their own shop.