True Beauty
in Beauty Parlour s?
P V Joseph Buan Sing
MA in Philosophy, Loyola College, Chennai

At any beauty parlour or spa in Bangalore you can see fair young women whom you may mistake for foreigners. Some of them certainly are but at least three out of ten of them would be from the northeast of India. Thanks to their naturally beautiful facial features, they look similar to Thai girls and are sought after by customers because of their fair skin. Back at home most of them have done only their elementary studies. They live in poverty and work in the paddy field and in the kitchen. But many of them are lured even by their relatives working in metropolitan cities, with a promise of a good job. Many such relatives or friends who return home for holidays dress and behave like rich people. With a desire to alleviate poverty in the family, the poor parents send their daughters to work in those places without knowing the dangers. Once they reach a big city in search of work, they go for a beauty training course. According to Divya Sreedharan (The Hindu, 11th March 2013) “Beauty-training courses are hugely expensive. A three-day workshop, for instance can cost upwards of Rs. 5,000. Short-term or long-term courses can last from one to nine months, or two years, and cost anything from Rs. 20,000 to over Rs. 100,000. Young women from poor backgrounds cannot afford these courses.” They take loans from their relatives or make a work-contract at the training centre for a time bound period. Once the training or contract is over, they get a monthly salary of around Rs.10,000 which is the highest amount many of them have ever held in their hands. But it is inadequate for a decent living and to send home.

Many women are physically, sexually and emotionally exploited by their bosses. The salary promised during the interview is often not paid to them. There are no time-bound promotions or rules for salary raise. Their salary is delayed or deducted if they take leave beyond the weekly day off. As a result, they do not take leave unless they are seriously sick. Most of them are in their early 20s but are forced to work hard irrespective of the health problems that they face. Most of their bosses are high-handed but the girls lack courage to go against their wishes or complain to the police for fear of losing their job. They live in insecurity though the beauty parlours, spas or the hospitality industry in the metros would not be able to function without them. For example, over 150,000 people from the Northeast left Bangalore during the false alarm raised against them in Bangalore in August 2012. Consequently, many beauty parlours, spas, restaurants and shops in Bangalore were shut down for a few weeks.

In this process many of them are cheated and even pushed into brothels. Gradually, some of them learn how their seniors earn extra money. Caste and dowry are foreign to their culture in the northeast. Girls and boys can mingle freely and have the freedom to dress as they want. They are also influenced by the fashion of the east through Korean films and of the west. They thus look fashionable and attractive in this dress so some customers to the beauty parlours or spas think that they are easy going. Knowing that they are financially poor, many men lure them with money to have a sexual relationship. Some even pretend to fall in love with them. They also get invited to pubs or clubs where they witness a culture of fun, joy and sensual pleasure. Initially, they say no to their enticers but as time passes they lose their values because of peer group pressure or in order to earn more money for their families. Initially they feel guilty but slowly some additional income to support themselves and their families overcomes their resistance.

Not all of them fall prey to it. Many of them have quit the job and have returned home with tears and empty pockets. In 2013, for my case study on the problems faced by the Northeast girls working in Bangalore I interviewed 50 women. One of the questions was, “Did your customers ever tempt you with money for affairs?” It was not a polite question but they cooperated in the study. Out of 50 girls, 33 became victims of sexual affairs, 9 of them rejected the offer, and 8 refused to answer the question. Many of them added that they lost both their moral and spiritual values. Most of them are Christian. Back at home they would attend church services on Sundays and spend the rest of the day with their family and friends. In Bangalore and other cities their work demands more of their time during the weekend, especially on Sundays. They, therefore, have to work on Sundays like slaves from early morning to late at night. They have a weekly holiday on some other day and they spend it washing, cleaning and sleeping. They are not even able to meet their friends or relatives.

A beauty parlour or salon is generally an open area where everyone is treated in the same area. It focuses on minor treatments while a full-service spa offers full body treatments. However, there can be a private room for certain waxing procedures. A spa offers many treatments like facials, massage, skin treatment, relaxation options and water therapy. A spa has a sauna, whirlpool, and several private treatment rooms and also offers ultrasound treatment or Botox and other services. Not all the beauty parlours and spas are hubs of immoral activities. Most service rooms have transparent walls and CCTV cameras. Such professionally secure places offer dignified jobs, careers and a good future to the employees. But many of them also become places of exploitation.
This is an industry with a future. A KPMG Wellness Sector report of April 2014 projects that the size of India’s beauty and wellness market would nearly double to Rs 80,370 crore by 2017-18 from

41,224 crore in 2012-13. That will offer employment opportunities and increase the national income. But what about the dignity and lives of these women? The governments of northeastern and host States must check the requirement of migrant working women and their safety measures. Before they leave for the metros social organizations, religious groups and NGOs can take initiatives to organize awareness programmes on their recruitment, working conditions and modes of treating women in workplaces. Basic legal awareness on how to file a case is an important aspect of sensitisation. Finally, however, building a bridge of cultural integration between the people of the northeast and local communities is needed to remove stigmas and phobias about each other.