At the age of 70, Shantabai Shripati Yadav, India’s first female barber, charges Rs. 50 for a shave with a haircut and Rs. 100 for shaving the cattle. Her journey as a barber is extraordinary and inspiring. Let’s check it out.
Shantabai, being a victim of child marriage, got married when he was just 12. Her husband, Shripati, was a part-time barber and their principal source of income was farming. Unfortunately, Shripati had a feud with his three brothers and was left with less than an acre to farm. Gradually, their earning reduced and to feed his family, he was impelled to take a loan. Unable to pay debts on time, he ended up bankrupt.
Haribhau Kadukar, the sabhapati of Hasursasgiri village, advised them to relocate to Hasursasgiri to start a fresh life. With no barbers in this village, a steady income was promised here.
But time was not grateful to them. In 1984, Shantabai lost two of her infants and her husband died of a massive heart attack. With no torch-bearer left in the family, for next three months, she worked eight hours a day as a farm labourer. Earning just Rs. 50 per day was barely enough to feed herself, forget her daughters. Seeing her appalling conditions, Haribhau Kadukar, suggested her to take up her husband’s profession.
“I had only two choices, either to kill my daughters and myself and give up on life altogether or to hold the ustra that my husband left behind and struggle. I decided to choose the later,” said Shantabai.
She was humiliated and mocked by the villagers for taking up this manly profession but she didn’t give up. Every day, she would leave her kids with her neighbours, the Gadiwadars, and would walk 4-5 kms to nearby villages in search of more customers. She started off by charging Rs. 1 for a haircut and Rs. 5 for shaving the cattle.
Shantabai’s story was covered by local and regional newspapers like ‘Tarun Bharat’ and was applauded for her undying courage. Haribhau Kadukar, who supported her when all chips were down, passed away in 2008. His great-grandson, Baban Patil, still visits her regularly to ask after her well-being.
In 1985, she received money from the government to build a house under the ‘Indira Gandhi Awas Yojna’. She, all on her own, married off all her daughters without any financial help.
“This profession has given life to me and my kids. Until I can see with my eyes and hold the ustra with my hands, I will carry on with this job,” says Shantabai, who is determined to work until the day she dies.
Shantabai is a perfect example of true women power. In today’s world, a woman can take up any manly profession and excel in it as well.