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The Mysterious Case of Braid Chopping

Fear, darkness, anarchy, hysteria and uncertainty continue to rule the Valley; this time in the form of the mysterious 'braid chopping' assaults on women by unidentified assailants. This looks like a magical realism narrative, which has been transported from fiction and made to play out in Kashmir: in the middle of all our troubles the mysterious incidents, where women from little girls to elderly women have a substance sprayed in their face that causes them to faint before having their braids cut off in random attacks, makes the inhabitants of the Valley terrified and scared; women no longer dare to go out on their own, and they lock all the entrances when they are at home. It is like a metaphor, a metaphor for embarrassment, not for those women who come under this attack, but for the security situation.

One wonders how the braid-choppers reach the privacy of a family's living spaces and then escape, without anyone noticing their presence. What is more shocking and what makes people look at this phenomenon with more suspicion is that even after more than a month not a single culprit has been arrested so far, and the police are yet to find any motive. The same security forces that day in and day out, with their strong networks, trace and kill scores of militants.

In towns and villages, nervous communities are viewing strangers with suspicion; many have been thrashed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One elderly man mistaken for a braid chopper was horrifically murdered, and other suspects have been handed over to the police; later proving to be innocent. Many youngsters are also guarding their family home and are keeping surveillance in some areas. People fear to visit the areas where people don’t recognise them – as even some guests are being suspected as braid choppers and beaten – which leads to chaos.

The everyday reports of braid cutting adds more to the already growing fear among people, resulting in mass hysteria. Kashmiris live in a society where women cover their hair, they don’t even show it to their family members, but when such incidents happen, the news of that particular female spreads all over, making her feel she has been exposed to shame and insult. The rumours associated with braid chopping, for example that those whose braids gets chopped can live only up to three months or they will develop a psychological problem, is causing more panic. This is an attack on the dignity of the people of Kashmir and the people in power seem busy with their own agenda – how to gain from this situation.

When asked how this happens the victims share a common story: they are rendered unconscious by some spray or substance, and when they regain consciousness they see their hair has been chopped off. Some people see this as a ploy to distract people; some consider it a mockery of the dignity of the people and they even suspect the security services; some think it was started first in some part of India, and a few incidents in Jammu too before it reached Kashmir, only not to doubt its mystery, otherwise one could question it as some digression of the Occupation; and a few think of it as a psychological aberration.

These are all speculations. But who is doing this and why? How could chopping off the braids of some women benefit the assailants? And if it is really to distract people, then from what? Protests rock the valley – the internet gets suspended; separatists give protest calls and encourage students to come out on to the streets; some political organisations, those in Opposition, visit the areas and protest; civil societies hold sit-ins – but the fire of fear unceasingly holds the valley. We can only pray that this menace will end soon and the culprits are brought to justice.

Muddasir Ramzan studied English Literature. He was born in 1990 in Kashmir, India, where he resides. He can be reached at muddasirramzan[at]gmail[dot]com