Hair styling disaster, mental trauma and loss of employment: the Aashna Roy v. Yogesh Deveshwar case

We have all been in that situation where we go to get a haircut and it doesn’t turn out to be as amazing as we expected it to look like or the hairstylist just didn’t follow the instruction you gave them. However, barring the few most proactive ones, most of us just accept our fate and live with it, hoping and praying that it will grow out faster. Whether we accept it or not, looks play a big role in our social life. Hair especially, has the power to completely transform a person’s overall appearance. It can boost up our confidence or be the cause of misery and insecurity when something bad happens to it or it just doesn’t look the way we want it to look

. Appearance is also important for job interviews because as the saying goes, you should look the part of your job. In jobs like modelling, it is no secret that your outward appearance is half the work. When hairdressers and salons mess up something so important which affects a person’s livelihood, it becomes a serious issue. This article is an analysis of the recent Aashna Roy v. Yogesh Deveshwar[1] judgement decided by the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC).

Facts of the case:

The complainant Ashna Roy, who is a model by profession, visited the salon of ITC Maurya on 12th April 2018 where she asked the hairdresser to give her a simple haircut. Giving specific instructions of only cutting four inches from the bottom and long layers. Her specific instructions were due to her upcoming job interview where she obviously wanted to look her best and secure the perfect first impression. During the haircut, the complainant was asked to keep her hair down constantly and therefore was not able to see the process of her haircut. She did take a note of the long time that was taking her hairdresser to cut her hair when she had only asked for a simple haircut. When enquired about it, the hairdresser informed Aashna that she was being given a ‘London Haircut’. Not bothering about the names of haircuts, Aashna stayed put till her hairdresser was done. After the hairdresser was done, the complainant shockingly realized what disaster had struck. The hairdresser has cut off majority of her hair length, only leaving out four inches from the top which didn’t even touch her shoulders and in no way as per the instruction given by her. She complained to the manager but to no avail.

Aashana was also not given in bill or charged for although she was usually charged heavily in her earlier visits. She was instead forcefully asked by the salon to get hair extensions, on which she would not be charged. Having on other options, she agreed to it. However, again disaster struck when the treatment given by the salon completely damaged and burnt her scalp due to usage of cream which contained excess ammonia. When complained to the General Manager, the complainant stated that he misbehaved with her and did not undertake any compensatory actions.

The complainant also got to know later on that her hair was sold by the salon. Utterly dejected by this transformation, the complainant stated that she became insecure about her looks which in turn affected her social and professional life. Failing to avail any compensation from the ITC groups’ management, she approached the National Consumer Redressal Committee under section 12 read along with section 21 of the Consumer protection Act, 1986, praying for a monetary compensation of Rs. 3 for harassment, humiliation and mental trauma she went through crores and a written apology.

Other than adjudging on whether the complainant was entitled to some compensation and what should be the quantum of such compensation, the court also decided on the issue of who all are the necessary parties with respect to the present suit. For the purposes of this article I will be sticking to the topic of compensation.

Arguments of the opposite party:

A preliminary objection was contended by the opposite parties that complainant does not fall under the definition of ‘consumer’ under section 2(1) of the Consumer protection Act  1986, since she had not made any payment with regards to the services rendered to her. Further they denied any and all of the accusation by stating that a Rs. 3 crore compensation was excessive and without any basis as no documentary evidence has been forwarded by the complainant to support her claims. Therefore, the complaint deserves to be dismissed on issues of pecuniary jurisdiction.

On merits it was argued that facts stated by the complainant were false and all entire hair length was not chopped off. It was cut as per her request and that no damage was done to her scalp due to excess ammonia. The counsel for the opposition argued that ITC Limited is a well-known multi-business company whose Salons are staffed by professionally trained hair experts. The hair products used in the complainant’s case were also good quality American Federation of hairdressers approved product which pioneers in hair solutions around the globe. Further it was stated that the product applied to the complainant’s hair was ammonia and Sulphur free. It was contended that the complainant had malafide intention to malign ITC’s reputation and goodwill and a way to extract unreasonable high compensation. The hair selling fact, misbehavior of the staff and management of the salon was also disputed by the opposite counsel.

Reply by the complainant:

The complainant denied all accusation forwarded by the opposite parties and further reiterated her complaints made earlier. The complainant further stated that all her hair had indeed been chopped off by the salon hairdresser and that he had never had short hair before. She also filed an affidavit evidencing that the treatment given the Salon hairdresser had caused damage and burnt off her scalp established by a certificate of medical treatment issued by D. Ranjit Kumar Das. Additionally, a whatsapp chat with the opposite party where they had admitted their fault and tried covering it up by offering free hair treatment was also submitted. With regards to the contention of her not being a ‘consumer’ as she had not paid for the service, she submitted that initially she was charged on her debit card but was repaid back on her complaint made to the management. Again, giving evidence of their acceptance of guilt.

Decision of the NCDRC:

The court found no substance in the contention that the complainant did not qualify as a consumer under section 2 (1)(d) of the Consumer Act based on the statement and evidence provided by the complainant about the free hair services given to her after the haircut incident. The court was of the opinion that the such a huge business (ITC) which is established for profit purposes would provide free services which involved the time and work of trained staff, good quality products etc. Additionally, the court placed reliance on the fact that money had already been debited from the complainant’s card but was later declined. Lastly, the whatsapp chat apology can also not be ignored wherein there was no request to make payment and on top of that it was informed to the complainant that the said hairdresser had actually been suspended for three days, pointing to the evidence that the staff’s mistake was accepted and taken into account. Therefore, the complainant did qualify as a consumer.

On the issue of exaggerated claim of the complainant, and the objection of the opposite parties that NDRC does not have pecuniary jurisdiction to entertain the complaint:

Under the new 2019 Consumer protection Act, determination of the pecuniary jurisdiction is to be decided only on the basis of the consideration paid by the consumer. However the present case is filed under the Act of 1986 as the complainant approached NDRC in 2018, before the implementation of the 2019 Act. Under the 1986 Act, determination of pecuniary jurisdiction is to be done after combining the value of goods and services and compensation, in claimed. Placing reliance on the case of Ambrish Kumar Shikla & Ors v. Ferrous Infrastructure pvt. Ltd.[2], where a three member bench of NDRC held that for the purposes of determining pecuniary jurisdiction of a consumer forum under 1986 Act, the value of the consideration paid by the consumer plus the amount of compensation prayed for must be taken in account. Therefore, NCDRC is the correct forum.

Having already established the mistake of the hairdresser and the salon staffs, now the quantum of compensation was to be decided. The court first stated that compensation may have various connotation and the loss for which compensation is asked for may constitute actual loss, mental or emotional suffering, insult, injury, loss or even expected loss. The case of Charan Singh v. Healing Touch Hospital & Ors[3] was considered for the determination of the amount of compensation for loss or injury suffered by a consumer on the basis of deficiency in services. The SC had observed that taking all relevant facts into consideration, accepted legal principles, the compensation to be awarded must serve two purposes: to recompensing the consumer and bring about a change in the attitude on the service provider. As such there is no hard and fast rule or formula which should be employed in these scenarios but must depend on a case by case basis. It should be just, fair and proper according to the established judicial standards. Based on the above observations, the court took into account how hair forms an essential requirement to look presentable. They also gave special importance to the relationship a woman shares with her hair in most cases. Often especially for women with long hair, there is a sense of pride and crowning glory related to their hair which is backed up by the hard work which goes into maintaining this appearance and health. Owing to such emotional attachment, it not wholly unusual to become distraught and emotionally effected if something wrong were to happen to their hair. Especially in the complainant’s case who had previously worked for popular brands like Pantene and VLCC but now has lost on several employment opportunities because of her hair look and various other opportunities in acting and modeling. She was also working as Senior Management professional and the immense mental trauma led her to not being able to focus on her job and finally losing out on it completely. In light of the above circumstances, the court held the opposite party guilty of causing mental trauma due to negligence and also medical negligence which led to her scalp damage. Deeming it fit to grant a compensation of Rs. 2 crore for meeting the ends of justice.

Conclusion:

The NCDRC’s attention to mental health and trauma is commendable. As I stated early on in this article, often as consumers, we live with bad haircuts often with the hope that it will grow on us or will look better after it grows out. This is not just a case of an ‘ugly’ haircut. Owing to the fact circumstances, it is very clear that it was a deliberate and inexcusable mistake of the service provides who even failed to assist the consumer to get compensation on the damage already caused to her. The complainant in the case was indecisive of the new hairdresser assigned to her in the absence of the hairdresser who regularly worked on her hair. However, on the reassurance of the manager, she agreed to get her hair done by the new hairdresser who ultimately caused a lot of damage. The complainant displayed all efforts of being a prudent consumer and also showed persistency in getting a compensation by the salon even before she approached the NCDRC. It is only when she was denied several times, did she approach the NCDRC as a last resort. Consumer protection is becoming increasingly important in a world where brands and the products or services they provide are getting excessively competitive and are ready to go to any lengths to preserve a good image.


[1] 2021 SCC OnLine NCDRC

[2] (2017) CPJI (NC)

[3] 7 SCC 668

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