Two sisters, Jyoti Kumari, 18, and Neha, 16, have received honors from the Indian government after it was revealed that they had disguised themselves as boys for four years so they could run their sick father’s male barbershop in his absence. Speaking to The Guardian, Jyoti explained that the family had been left on the verge of destitution after their father grew sick and was forced to close the shop.
The sisters re-opened the shop in a bid to pay for his treatment and support the rest of the family, but faced derision and sexual harassment from customers. For women to run a male salon, particularly in a conservative rural area, was a major violation of cultural norms — if not an outright taboo.
“[Many customers] did not behave well towards us,” recalled Jyoti. “So we decided to change our whole get-up so that none could identify us.”
The sisters cut off their long hair, put on male clothing, and began calling themselves by the male names Deepak and Raju. While some locals knew the secret of their true identities, the majority of their customers remained blissfully unaware — happy to have their hair and mustaches trimmed by who they thought were two enterprising young men. Despite only being able to open up shop in the afternoon as the pair continued to attend school, the sisters’ hard work made it possible for the family to continue on just as before their father’s illness. And over time, they said, they began acknowledging their true identities to more and more customers, trusting in their growing reputation for excellence. Jyoti, who has since graduated school, even started to regrow her hair.
“Now we have gained enough confidence and don’t fear anyone,” Neha said. “The majority of people have come to know that we are girls.”
As years have passed, they have slowly revealed their real identities to customers. “Now we have gained enough confidence and don’t fear anyone,” Neha said. “The majority of people have come to know that we are girls.” Jyoti has started regrowing her hair. https://t.co/gVtp2Jm22l
— Piyush Rai (@Benarasiyaa) January 17, 2019
After news of their extraordinary story was published by a local journalist this week, the Indian government reached out to the sisters and honored them in a public ceremony.
“They are the brilliant story of how one can survive battling all odds,” said government official Abhishek Pandey. “The little sisters are the inspiration for society and their story must be told to the masses.”
Since news of their true identities broke, the sisters say they haven’t had the same problem they first had with disrespect and harassment. Many of their longtime customers, they added, had even come forward to tell them that they weren’t upset at being deceived, but rather moved by the sisters’ determination to help their family.
Read the full story at The Guardian.