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Page last updated at 06:11 GMT, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 07:11 UK

Free haircuts for India students

By Amarnath Tewary
Patna

Bandhu Tirkey with school children
Mr Tirkey says many students cannot afford haircuts Pics: Mahadeo Sen

The government in the northern Indian state of Jharkhand has decided to hire barbers to give students free haircuts.

State minister Bandhu Tirkey told the BBC that many of the students going to government schools were so poor that they could not afford regular haircuts.

He said some 40,000 barbers would be hired to give haircuts to students in an equal number of government schools.

Jharkhand is a poor tribal state with a literacy rate of 54% compared to India's average of 65%.

Human Resource Development Minister Bandhu Tirkey said school principals have been directed to begin hiring barbers.

They would be called "physical trainers" instead of their traditional caste name of "Nai".

Many barbers traditionally belong to lower castes in India's caste hierarchy and their surnames point to their profession.

'Hygienic'

The barbers would be available in the schools for three days a week and would be paid around 1,000 rupees ($25) a month.

Barber in Jharkhand
Barbers have welcomed the decision

The scheme would cost the exchequer some 40 million rupees ($1m).

"A neat haircut is also very hygienic," Mr Tirkey said.

Earlier, the state government had announced a scheme to celebrate birthdays of students in schools.

"We have to make education attractive for poor students and give them incentives to go to school and reduce the burden for their parents," Mr Tirkey said.

Meanwhile, the students and barbers alike appear to have welcomed the free haircut scheme.

"It will save us money and also make us look good," said Arjun Manjhi, who attends a government school in Khunti, 40km from the state capital, Ranchi.

And barber Muneshwar Thakur said he was "happy" with the decision.

"It will give us employment and help the poor children also," he said.


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