The bob comes to Kamathipura

Ex-commercial sex workers training under celebrity hairstylist to steer financial independence

Vandana*, a trainee at celebrity hairstylist Sapna Moti Bhavnani’s Pali Hill salon, wraps up her four-hour shift, content with a compliment she has received for her blow-drying.

Celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani is giving former sex workers from Kamathipura hairstyling classesCelebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani is giving former sex workers from Kamathipura hairstyling classes

The 27-year-old is among 10 former sex-workers in Kamathipura who had signed up for a hairstyling course as a means of financial sustenance so that they could get off the streets. At Bhavnani’s salon, a sign outside reads ‘Free blow-drying and shampooing’, allowing Vanadana and her colleagues to train on ‘real’ customers.

Bhavnani first met the 10 at Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC), a non-profit with offices in Kamathipura and Khetwadi, working towards anti-trafficking since 1998. The women, all between 18 and 38 years, had enrolled in courses in March this year but hadn’t been able to land training opportunities.

“When I visited AAWC, I was blown away by how they styled hair. Of course, our sensibilities were different — they preferred lots of ornamentation; I like to keep it simpler,” says Bhavnani, known to work on stars like Katrina Kaif and Bipasha Basu.

Their earlier training, she feels, was basic and old-school. Upgrading their skills also means picking up grooming tips, maintaining basic hygiene and working on client interaction — all of which are currently being put to test on Bandra’s well-heeled coming into the salon.

“Many of them succumb to sex-trade due to lack of opportunities,” says Namita Khatu, programme director at AAWC. But, this transition was one with problems. Having rarely stepped outside Kamathipura, social stigma and disapproval from brothel owners and live-in partners paved a difficult path ahead.

So that their resilience and newly acquired skills wouldn’t rust, Bhavnani felt they needed to practice at home with a personal kit. A professional hairdressing kit costs close to R10,000. Bhavnani was toying with the idea of putting the word out on social media to raise R1 lakh, when she found a willing donor in cricketer MS Dhoni.

With sufficient training, AAWC and Bhavnani hope that these new stylists will be able to open their salon, perhaps even in Kamathipura. But will customers shy away from visiting a salon run by an ex-sex-worker? “If you are well-trained and have magic in your fingers, it cannot matter. Your work speaks for you,” is Bhavnani’s belief.

Names of the hairdressers hav been changed on request

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