This Guy Went to Jail Because Police Thought His Hair Was Too Long

“I’m seen as a criminal.” Abuzar Madhu’s beautiful hair is a conversation starter for some and a reason to stop-and-frisk for others.
Pallavi Pundir
Delhi, IN
June 10, 2021, 1:22pm
hair, taboo, pakistan, masculinity, crime,
Abuzar Madhu is used to strangers - including cops - profiling him because of his hair. But this weekend was different. Photo: Abuzar Madhu

Abuzar Madhu had a strange run-in with police in the Pakistani city Lahore last week. He was waiting for a rickshaw at 3AM when a police van stopped and several officers asked him come with them.

“Will you come with us or do we take you forcibly?” the 28-year-old teacher and theatre artist recalled being asked.

Madhu went with them – the police left him with no choice. He was sure it was because of his hair.

In Lahore, a city of 11 million considered of of listed in the New York Times’ “52 Places to Love in 2021,” Madhu’s shoulder-length wavy mane is often an ice-breaker with strangers, but has also led to him being profiled and subjected to frequent stop-and-frisk tactics by police.  

“I get stopped on the streets, or checked by the cops, at least three times a day. I’m seen as a criminal,” he said. “But this was my first arrest.”

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On June 5, Madhu was locked up overnight. He said the police couldn’t comprehend why he looked the way he did.

“My hair was in a bun, I was wearing a bangle.” Madhu explained, adding that the police reprimanded him and said, “Have you seen your huliya (appearance)? How do you even teach kids with that hair?”

“I told them I’m an artist and showed all my documents. But they wanted me to learn a lesson from this.” Madhu said the police told him, “You will be disciplined for this.”

VICE World News reached out to the police officials to confirm details about the arrest but did not get a response. 

In Pakistan, awaragardi - Urdu for loitering - can be considered criminal behaviour. Loitering offences were introduced across South Asia in the 1800s, and today continue to be enforced with racist and classist implications. In Madhu’s province of Punjab - the second biggest province in Pakistan - being awara or a loiterer is a crime and can land you in jail

“Laws around awaragardi go back to the British time when colonisers wanted to control us and restrict our movements,” said Madhu. “These colonial laws and hang ups are still in place.” 

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Culturally, beauty standards across South Asia adhere to narrow gender binaries.  

hair, taboo, pakistan, masculinity, crime

Abuzar Madhu is a theatre artist and comes from a religious family. He said his family initially objected to his hair and choice of clothes. Photo: Abuzar Madhu

Ahmer Naqvi, a cultural commentator from Karachi, told VICE World News that long hair often creates a moral panic among older urban Pakistanis. In the 1990s, the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif banned rock and pop music on TV, and criticised “long-haired young men” and the “jean-jacket culture” for replacing “Pakistani culture”. 

“That ban was the most obvious way the state itself echoed this bias,” said Naqvi, who also had long hair until last year and was subjected to profiling by cops very frequently. 

“There is a general unease about long hair as representing blurring of gender norms or embracing western culture,” he said. “The police are likely to pull you up and check for drugs and alcohol if you’re a man with long hair.” 

Madhu added the incident highlights Pakistan’s inequalities and classist mindset. 

“I don’t drive a private car. I walk, I take public transport,” Madhu said. “I see men who drive their own cars keep their hair however they want. Nobody questions them.” 

Naqvi added that in the past long hair used to trigger security concerns in some parts of the country, because religious extremists like the Taliban often had long hair. “Although I don’t think that was the case here because those security concerns have receded over the last few years,” he added.

For now, though, Madhu plans to keep his hair the way it is as an act of resistance. “If I do cut my hair in the future, it will be because I want a change. Never out of fear,” Madhu said.

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