The curious case of braid cutting in the Kashmir Valley

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Kashmir is on the brink of yet another unrest. And this time, the reason is neither the killing of a major militant commander nor a human rights violation but a rather queer one: For the past three weeks , the Valley has been witness to successive braid cutting of scores of women and school going girls and occasionally the snipping of men’s long beards.
Every such incident — real or imagined — has triggers a mini riot. People take to the streets and shout slogans against the government and in favour of Kashmir’s liberation. More often than not the alleged perpetrators are caught and beaten to pulp. Many of these suspects later apprehended by the police turned out to be innocent people who had unsuspectedly been found to be walking in an area at an odd hour.
The braid cutting travelled to the Valley from Jammu where similar incidents in parts of Udhampur, Sama, Kathua and more recently in Rajouri generated restiveness among people. In the Valley, the first incident of braid snipping occurred at Nathpora village in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district from where it spread to parts of South Kashmir. One of the first cases
occurred at Chimmer, Kulgam where people complained that as soon as they apprehended the perpetrator, the Army appeared out of nowhere to rescue him. A video of the incident went viral once it was uploaded onto social media. Kulgam is one of the worst-hit districts with around two dozen cases of braid cutting being reported from there.
Subsequently, the menace spread to three other districts of the South, and then central and North Kashmir. The first such incident in Srinagar took place at Hazratbal. People apprehended a Kashmiri woman who allegedly was in possession of a blade and a spray. She was alleged to have attempted to throw the spray at some women at a house who in turn raised an alarm. The woman was later arrested by the police but she turned out to be mentally unstable.
The deepening turmoil in the Valley forced the government to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the peculiar allegations. J&K Police established helplines so that people could inform and seek assistance with regard to any braid cutting incident. The general public was also asked to call on the helplines in case of any suspicious movement.
“To speed up the investigation process, Special Investigation Teams have also been constituted in every district headquarters of the Valley,” police said in a statement.
Police also announced a reward of six lakh for anyone who gives credible information about a braid cutter. But so far neither a single perpetrator has been arrested nor has police been able to explain the mysterious phenomenon.
Some youths and even women who have been caught have turned out to be innocent. Some senior police officials have termed the phenomenon as “nothing but mass hysteria”.
“People are requested not to fall prey to rumours and it is reiterated  that strict legal action will be taken against attention seekers in the garb of braid chopping,” a police statement said.
Police has threatened and also registered cases against alleged
rumour mongers. An FIR was lodged against a group of people in Pattan when they raised a false alarm about the involvement of two labourers, Marooq Ahmad Taas and Mohammad Jan Raina from Kalaroos, Kupwara who stay at a rented accommodation in the area.
In fact, police version of the
ongoing events has been backed by
“detailed analysis of the braid cutting” in Kashmir by Dr Jawad
Nasir Ahmad from the Government
Medical College Srinagar.
“I examined a few women whose braids had been cut in Shopian….What I noticed is astonishing. I was left mesmerised by the complexity of human psychology,” Dr Jawad said in his report. “The first thing that made me suspicious of a psychogenic origin was that a woman had complained of braid chopping three times on different occasions”.
However, Dr Nasir concludes by saying that he doesn’t “rule out everything else but invites research from experts into the field to look further into this”. According to him the only way the alleged psychic phenomenon would go away was once news about it is stopped.
Police has used Dr Nasir’s
research to explain the ongoing incidents, bolstering its case further by saying that all the so-called perpetrators apprehended by mobs have turned out to be innocent.  
But the people are far from convinced. More so, when the incidents keep recurring. Everyday several incidents of alleged braid cutting keep surfacing, with women either reporting that their hair was mysteriously cut or raising an alarm following an alleged attempted attack by a stranger.
“There are some valid questions which are going unanswered. One, the braid cutting didn’t originate in the Valley but started elsewhere in the country and then in Kashmir. So, how can it be called a mass hysteria?,” asks political commentator Gowhar Geelani. “Besides, how do you explain the actual snipping of the hair of so many women? Were they all crazy? Even if they are, how come they are doing it all simultaneously, as if they are in touch with each other?”
It is questions like these and fewer answers to them that lend the alleged braid cutting incidents their credibility, and in turn trigger mass panic. As of now the fear of braid cutting is endemic in the Valley. Everyday local newspapers carry reports of more such attacks and the capture of the alleged braid cutters by people. Almost every hour the latest news in their online editions keeps updating more attacks and more captures. Social media, on the other hand, remains choc-a-bloc with videos and pictures from the scenes of alleged braid cutting attacks. This has only further deepened the scare. Now any stranger in a locality becomes automatically suspicious and runs the risk of
either being beaten or lynched. In fact, on October 5, 70-year-old
Abdul Salam Wani from village Dantar in South Kashmir died after being hit by a brick by the people suspecting him to be a braid snipper. The madness is penetrating deeper into the interiors of the Valley. In many villages, residents maintain strict vigil through the night to protect their womenfolk.
Hilariously, one of the worst victims of the prevailing mass scare have been lovers. In many cases, young men out on a date with their girlfriends have been mistaken for braid cutters and thrashed. One such prominent case was that of Nayeem Ahmad Malla from Dandusa, Rafiabad. He was waiting for his girlfriend outside her house at Delina, Baramulla when her father mistook him for a braid cutter and raised an alarm. He would have been lynched by residents of the locality had
police not reached there in time and rescued him. His video statement
revealing the real purpose of his “suspicious presence” in the locality later went viral.

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