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Kashmir braid chopping: Vigilantes target tourists, outsiders as police, govt clueless

While some blame intelligence agencies for braid-chopping incidents, others have accused the Mehbooba Mufti government of failing to protect women in the state.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2017 10:36 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Toufiq Rashid
Hindustan Times, Srinagar
Braid chopping,Braid chopping in Kashmir,Braid chopping incidents in Kashmir
A woman displays her lock of hair that was chopped earlier this month in Srinagar. (Waseem Andrabi/HT File )

How bad is the braid-chopping scare in Kashmir? Here are three instances that will help you judge the situation for yourself:

* On the intervening night of October 9 and 10, Pampore residents brutally assaulted a mentally challenged person after branding him a braid chopper. The 30-year-old from Budgam was among three people assaulted by a mob before being handed over to the police.

* A mob of locals beat up rag-pickers in Nowgam on Monday. Residents believed they were braid choppers in disguise.

*Early last week, a resident of Khalmulla in central Kashmir was mercilessly beaten after being mistaken for a braid chopper. Muzaffar Ahmad Wani was rushing after his girlfriend to give her a SIM card when youngsters in the locality thought he was stalking her to chop her hair. When the girl refused to identify him (for other reasons), they began thrashing him mercilessly. It may be noted that Wani did not disclose till the very end that the two were in a relationship.

Needless to say, none of the individuals mentioned above were found to be involved in the alleged braid-chopping cases that have taken the Valley by storm. After each incident of the kind, the police ended up registering FIRs against vigilantes for rioting, rumour-mongering, assault and use of criminal force, among others. Repeated appeals to residents, asking them to cooperate with the authorities to maintain the peace and “not fall prey to rumour mongering”, have fallen on deaf ears.

Director general of police SP Vaid told Hindustan Times that all the people assaulted for allegedly chopping off braids have turned out to be innocent civilians who simply happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. “We have not nabbed a single person so far. The incidents of braid-chopping here have followed a pattern similar to that in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Even there, nobody was apprehended,” he said.

According to Vaid, no victim of braid chopping has been able to provide any clue on her alleged attacker. And yet, Kashmir continues to witness incidents of innocent people being branded as braid choppers and assaulted every other day.

Unlike other states, the braid-chopping phenomenon in Kashmir has the potential to open a Pandora’s box of political controversies. While some blame intelligence agencies for the alleged crime, others have accused the Mehbooba Mufti government of failing to protect women in the state. Road blockades, incidents of stone pelting and political agitations over the issue have become commonplace. The entire state came to a standstill on Monday, after separatists called for a shutdown to denounce such incidents.

The protests reached the corridors of power on Tuesday, when women employees of the civil secretariat slammed the state government’s “inability” to contain incidents of braid chopping.

In an attempt to calm frayed nerves, the Jammu and Kashmir police have formed a special investigating team to probe braid-chopping incidents and announced a Rs 6-lakh reward for those willing to provide information. They also recommended the formation of a multi-disciplinary team — including doctors, police officers and administrators — to jointly review such cases in each district.

DGP Vaid said while Jammu “witnessed” as many as 180 cases of the kind, Kashmir accounts for 40 until now. A majority of such incidents were reported from densely populated urban areas and rural zones, and the victims were mostly young girls or middle-aged women.

The victims provided conflicting statements. While most women said the alleged attacks took place while they were home alone, incidents of braid chopping in the presence of family members have also cropped up. Some even reported waking up from their sleep to find their hair snipped off.

The incidents of alleged braid chopping started in volatile South Kashmir, and later spread to the entire Valley. While governments in the rest of India were quick to blame public hysteria, the Jammu and Kashmir administration is treading cautiously.

A senior doctor said no victim was bought for evaluation to either of the two mental health hospitals in Kashmir. “Several cases were reported, but all the people handed over to the police turned out to be innocent. If something is actually happening, the real culprit is yet to be caught,” said Nayeem Akhtar, government spokesman and senior minister in the state cabinet.

Nayeem claimed that “his government does not necessarily believe in the hysteria theory”, but insisted that Rajasthan had projected a worse scenario earlier this year. “I met somebody from Rajasthan who told me that over 9,000 braid-chopping cases were reported there. Personal animosity or the girl’s desire to cut her own hair was found to be the reason in most such instances,” he said, adding that the cases will have to be properly investigated.

Both separatists and the National Conference (NC) — the main Opposition party in the state — blame the Mufti regime for the cases. The NC women’s wing staged a protest in Srinagar on Tuesday to condemn the government’s alleged failure to prevent braid-chopping incidents in the state. “It is the government’s responsibility to provide security to everyone, including women,” one of the agitators said, adding that women were feeling unsafe even in the confines of their homes.

Separatists have termed the braid-chopping scare as a “well thought-out ploy by the government to divert people’s attention from Kashmir’s freedom struggle”.

The alleged incidents have created panic, with women being advised against venturing out alone. “I am not allowed to go by myself to the market on my Scooty anymore... my brother has to accompany me,” said a woman post-graduate student on the condition of anonymity. “I am scared to venture outdoors too.”

First Published: Oct 12, 2017 07:21 IST