March 2023

Inside the unseen world of Electronic City's hair pickers

Saamuhika Shakti photographer Vinod Sebastian spent a day with hair pickers in Electronic City. This lesser-known aspect of waste work is a generations-old source of livelihood and helps reduce the amount of mixed waste we send out of our homes. 

Hair pickers clean, sort and sell fallen hair that ends up in human hair wigs and can even be used as agricultural fertilizer. Here’s Vinod’s detailed visual account of the community and its work. 

This is typically how women walk from home to home, asking for fallen hair. They exchange utensils or money for the hair they receive.

The weighing scale used by the hair pickers.

This is Devi, the community leader who buys hair from women and men who collect it from various parts of the city. She cleans and sorts the hair and sells it to wig makers in Salem, Tamil Nadu.

The cleaning process. Everything apart from hair is removed, the white hair too, as it has no value. After this, the hair is sorted by their shade.

Different shades and grades of hair.

Devi, at home. She uses her veranda as a store for the utensils that her community exchanges for hair. She gets the utensils from a manufacturer in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu.

This gentleman arrives with a bag of hair he collected from his rounds that morning. He hands it to Devi, and she inspects and weighs it.

Devi hands him a bunch of utensils from the store in exchange for the hair. He carries these with him the next day and will exchange them for more hair. Around 100g of hair is bought at Rs400 from homes, or in exchange for one of these utensils.

This tree is the heart of the community - the only place with shade and where residents socialize and have meetings.

This boy and his family make colourful toys called Giragidle, made of natural and recycled materials like clay, sticks, old paper, glue, and colour. The toy makes a sound like the croaking of frogs and is another product the community carries to exchange for hair.
The weekly community meeting took place later that afternoon, facilitated by partner Hasiru Dala. At these meetings, women discuss topics related to health and education, get assistance for government work (getting identity cards etc) when needed, and also have a  money pool to which they contribute weekly. Anyone in need of money can take a loan from this pool at low-interest rates. 


The hair collected by these communities often ends up in luxury products, but the women and men, at the bottom of the chain, earn very little from it. Hasiru Dala has been working on exploring new opportunities and market access for the community to help them earn more from their work.

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