Of lovers & braid-cutters: Phenomenon in Kashmir sees mob fury, death of one & police inaction
Early on an October morning, Nayeem Ahmad Malla, 20, of Dandusa, Rafiabad set out from his home. He had a date with his girlfriend who lives six kilometres away at Delina.
But while he was waiting for her close to her house, the passerby became suspicious about the stranger and soon mistook him for a braid cutter. The situation was made worse by the fact that he could not satisfactorily explain why he was there.
Soon, a large mob gathered and started kicking him around. The trendy dress he had worn to impress his beloved was torn. Mercifully, the police reached the spot, fired tear gas shells to disperse the crowd and he was rescued.
A statement later issued by the police identified him as “a boy in relationship with a girl”. A video of the boy's statement allegedly made in police custody later went viral. In the video, he even mentions the name of the girl and her parents and also narrates the story of their romance.
“I met X (name of the girl) at Gulnar park on Eid. I proposed her but she rejected me saying she already had an affair with a boy. Later she came around and accepted my love,” Malla is heard saying in the video. “On this day she had asked me to meet her near her home. I was waiting for her when people gathered around me and started beating me.”
An alarming trend
But Malla is not alone. Muzaffar Ahmad Wani of Khalmulla, Ganderbal had a similar run-in with a mob. He was waiting for his girlfriend when he too was mistaken for a braid snipper and brutally thrashed. In this case as well, the police saved the boy.
“After preliminary questioning, it became clear that the concerned youth had gone to meet his girlfriend, a resident of Nunar Ganderbal presently residing in the house of her sister at Kujjar Ganderbal, where he was spotted and taken as a braid chopper,” the police statement said.
At Samboora Pulwama a boy was beaten when he went to a girl to propose to her. Suspecting him to be a braid snipper, the girl raised an alarm alerting passersby who soon pounced on the boy and nearly lynched him.
A video is also doing the rounds of social media where a masked girl is seen pleading for her boyfriend who was similarly mistaken for a braid cutter.
“I was waiting near a van. I have an affair with a boy. I had to return his sim (card). When he was approaching me, the people appeared from behind saying that he was a braid cutter. What happened to him afterwards I don't know,” the girl says in the video.
However, incidents like these only reveal the madness that prevails in the Valley following the incidents of many women getting their braids chopped off. The mysterious phenomenon travelled to J&K from North India, first to Jammu and then to the Kashmir Valley where it has since wrought havoc. Every day several cases of braid chopping or the apprehensions of alleged braid cutters are reported in the local media.
So far hundreds of people have suffered this fate of being mistaken as braid choppers, including the lovers. And one 70-year-old Abdul Salam Wani from village Dantar in South Kashmir was lynched after being suspected of being a braid snipper. He had come out of his house late in the night to answer nature’s when a mob already agitated about having sighted an alleged braid cutter in the locality mistook him for one. He was hit on the head by a big brick and died on the way to the hospital.
In many villages, people have started night patrols, armed with lathis, knives and agricultural implements, to scare away the alleged perpetrators. There is scare everywhere. Womenfolk watch their backs as they walk on the roads.
No answers yet
Meanwhile, the state government is clueless. Not a single alleged braid snipper has been caught or identified. And those caught by the people have turned out to be innocent.
The police is now terming the phenomenon a mass hysteria which is self-perpetuating through circulation of pictures and videos on social media. And its strategy to control the menace is to file cases against “rumour mongers” and resort to internet shutdowns to limit the circulation of videos.
But this has hardly stopped the fresh cases from surfacing, which is only adding to the confusion.
“I am also looking for a jaadu ki chadi (magic wand),” the Director General of Police told a local news agency.
Lack of progress in the investigation has been a source of frustration with the people. The theory of “mass hysteria” has further inflamed the public.
“What the government is saying is that hundreds of women have simultaneously lost their minds in the Valley. And all of them are cutting their hair to give vent to their craziness. This is an insult to the intelligence of the people,” said Irshad Ahmad Bhat, 27, a school teacher in Baramulla.
The consensus in the Valley is that it is the state which is behind the phenomenon. And the inability of the police to offer a credible explanation for the multiplying incidents is only reinforcing the perception. Separatist groups too have blamed the government and called for a hartal on Monday.
‘The entire Valley has been driven nuts. Maybe the purpose behind the outrage is to divert the attention of the people by creating an artificial new issue. I wonder what purpose this will serve,” said Waseem Ahmad Parray, a post-graduate student at Kashmir University.
There are many videos online which claim to attest to the authenticity of these events. In one, an unidentified sobbing woman at a health clinic is seen narrating the tale of how her hair was cut.
“It happened at 6.30 pm. I had just come out of my washroom after performing my ablutions. I heard the opening of the door. I thought it was my son Shahid who had returned from the market. I moved to the kitchen from where I called out to him to lock the door. But while I was trying to light the gas somebody came from behind and put a hand on my mouth and I fell unconscious. When my son woke me up later, they found my braid had been cut,” the woman says and then lifts the cloth from her hair to show her snipped braid.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen