What is one to make of the braid chopping panic in Kashmir? | columns | Hindustan Times
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What is one to make of the braid chopping panic in Kashmir?

It’s not just astonishing, it’s also perplexing. Is it the work of God, the devil or nasty men? We just don’t know. At one level it suggests gullibility and a propensity for mass hysteria, at another it points towards the occult or the work of ghouls and demons

columns Updated: Oct 14, 2017 16:24 IST
A Kashmiri woman displays her hair which chopped on 08 October in central Batamalloo area of Srinagar
A Kashmiri woman displays her hair which chopped on 08 October in central Batamalloo area of Srinagar (Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)

Do you ever wonder about the strange developments that sometimes occur in our country and which, thereafter, mesmerise large sections of the population? Statues of Ganesh drinking milk and portraits of Madonna shedding tears were two such earlier events. The so-called braid-cutting phenomenon in the Kashmir Valley is the most recent. It is also, arguably, the most bizarre.

South of the Banihal Pass we only have a vague idea of this mystifying development. But in the Valley it has created panic. So let me begin with the details of what’s happened and the way anxiety has spread across the whole region.

The police claim it began on September 14 when a woman’s braid was cut for the first time in Kulgam district, a hot bed of militancy. Since then some reports suggest possibly 100 incidents have occurred across the Valley, with 30 in Kulgam alone.

The modus operandi is simple: unknown persons, assumed to be men, sprinkle a substance that renders the victim unconscious before her hair is cut. Oddly enough, the braid is left behind whilst the assailant flees. So why is this done? What purpose does it achieve?

The police have filed over 35 FIRs whilst the chief minister has constituted a Special Investigation Team and announced a Rs 6 lakh reward but as yet they have no answers to this key question. The Inspector General of Police, Muneer Khan, claims this is because none of the victims are willing to co-operate with the police.

Why? Because they’re scared stiff. Women don’t know when they will be attacked or by whom. As a result, they’re looking over their shoulders and living in fear. In their eyes everyone is a suspect. Meanwhile, their husbands and brothers have organised night patrols where, armed with lathis, they stand guard. Since the authorities don’t seem to be able to stop this menace and protect their women, the Kashmiris have decided to do it themselves.

All of this has made for a high level of panic. Consequently, innocent tourists or poor rag pickers have been considered suspects and were in danger of being lynched if the police had not intervened in time. But, as some reports suggest, the local night patrols have also led to a significant decline in militant movement as well as that of army personnel. And, conversely, sales of home security equipment have shot up. Everything in the Valley has been affected, whether for good or ill.

Last week it was the Hurriyat’s turn to react to this mysterious situation. Calling it “a well-thought-out conspiracy” to undermine the freedom struggle, it called a Valley-wide shut down last Monday which left schools, colleges, offices and commercial centres closed. On Thursday and Friday the government ordered all educational establishments to remain shut. However, a public march in Srinagar planned for Saturday was cancelled.

So, back to my question: what do you make of this? It’s not just astonishing, it’s also perplexing. Is it the work of God, the devil or nasty men? We just don’t know. At one level it suggests gullibility and a propensity for mass hysteria, at another it points towards the occult or the work of ghouls and demons.

Yet, whatever it is, millions believe it, are frightened by it and increasingly feel let down by the police and government who, they’re convinced, have failed to protect them. The people are scared, the government worried and the police, it seems, helpless.

If this isn’t incredible India, what is?

The views expressed are personal