A dark and inexplicable mystery is fueling confrontation and deepening the divide between ordinary Kashmiris and security forces in India’s most volatile province.
As many as 105 cases of braid-cutting or hair chopping of women have been registered in police stations against unknown assailants across Jammu & Kashmir, especially the Valley, triggering mass hysteria forcing authorities to snap Internet, stop train services, detain separatists and even resort to firing.
In one of the first reported cases this month, Shafeeqa, a 37-year-old resident of Srinagar, complained to the police that she lost consciousness after “a masked man sprayed something on her face”.
When she came back to her senses, she discovered that her plaits were gone. In another incident, college-girl Naira Nazim claimed that her braids were chopped while she was asleep in her family home.
Secessionist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the 88-year-old pro-Pakistan lynchpin of the aazadi (freedom) movement, say that braid-cutting is the handiwork of India’s military and para-military forces to create fear psychosis and terrorize Kashmiri mothers, daughters and sisters – a charge dismissed outright by the men in uniform.
Conspiracy by ‘anti-nationals’
The armed forces smell a statewide conspiracy by “anti-nationals” to keep the region on the boil by deliberately targeting women at a time when the army and the para-military Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force have pushed secessionists and infiltrators on the back foot by gunning down one militant commander after another.
“Braid chopping is an assault on womanhood. Despite being a woman, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is unmoved by these serial horrific attacks on womanhood. It has become increasingly unsafe for women of all ages to step out of their homes,” said the opposition National Conference’s woman legislator Shameema Firdous.
A Kashmir University professor, who didn’t want to be identified, told Al Arabiya English that “fewer women are visible on the streets these days and vigilante groups armed with sticks, iron rods and cricket bats are on the prowl to lynch hair cutters, heightening the lawlessness and siege mentality which are a major obstacle in the path of the return of normalcy”.
Initially the police announced a reward of Rupees 6,00,000 for specific information about braid cutters. But as the unsolved cases acquired political overtones, their tune changed.
Munir Ahmad Khan, Inspector General of Police, says that the reward of Rupees 6,00,000 was announced in good faith “but it is becoming increasingly clear that we are dealing with a mix of illusion and hallucination and trying to catch a ghost.”