Daanish Bin Nabi, writes on the mysterious attacks on women’s hair in Kashmir
Braid chopping incidents continue to be reported from across the Kashmir valley and its peripheries for over a month now. A cabinet minister in Jammu and Kashmir government, Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari, who is also a senior leader of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), termed the mysterious braid chopping incidents as a “phobia and a kind of hysteria”. State General Secretary of the government’s coalition partner, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ashok Koul, termed the incidents as a “disorder”.
Apart from the political narrative, the Jammu and Kashmir police, who is supposed to probe the incidents on group, claims to be clueless. It has failed to identify any person or agency behind unabated braid chopping incidents in Kashmir valley. The incidents of braid chopping started from the state’s Jammu division where 252 cases have been registered and the police are yet to make any arrests. 102 cases have been filed in Jammu district, 25 in Kathua, 24 in Samba, 23 in Doda and 17 in Rajouri.
Almost all the incidents have reportedly happened on the same pattern. Masked men barge into the house, spray something on woman’s face, chop her braid and escape from the spot undetected. This is what most of the victims narrate. Every incident is followed by massive clashes between people and the government forces. Another pattern that has been observed in these incidents is that most of the incidents have taken place at places where the “resistance” against the state is strong.
In all the chaos and confusion, the victim remains a woman. It is the same woman who has borne the brunt of conflict for many decades in Kashmir. Gender Activist and Kashmir Women’s Collective Patron, Mantasha Binti Rashid, opines, “It is a systematic attack on women to oppress them and to create a sense of heightened insecurity and disturbance in a society.”
In last two months, Jammu Kashmir Chief Minister has spoken only once about the incident, saying, “braid chopping incidents are attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the state.”
She said the government would ensure steps are taken to find the motives behind these attacks.
Who does it? What is the motive behind it? Who benefits from these incidents? These are some of the questions that need to be answered. Commenting about the casual approach of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Mantsha, said, “the CM must visit and provide support to women who have been attacked. She must instruct the police to take such and other complaints of violence against women seriously.”
“We as a society lack institutional mechanisms to help women victims of violence. We don’t have rape crisis centers, we don’t have counseling cells for women, we have no system in place and braid chopping is only one event of violence against women. People are suspecting a government hand in this and everything possible must be done by the government to assist victims and nab culprits such that this paranoia is controlled,” she said.
A Victim Speaks
Narrating her ordeal a victim from Batamaloo area told sbcltr that she does not want any of her friends and family to face the kind of harassment that she did. She sighs and says, “I don’t want to talk about it but at the same time I want to get my story heard.”
Haseena (name change) says, “I was in kitchen when someone from behind sprayed something nasty on my face. I then passed out. When I awoke, I was surrounded by family members and my braid had been chopped,” she says, “Who did this? I have no idea.” When asked if she had complained to the police, she said that she didn’t want to complicate matters for her family so she stayed mum.
Father of a victim from Qaimoh area of district Kulgam told sbcltr that there was nothing to talk about. He said, “We don’t want to go through the whole ordeal again. We only want that these incidents to stop immediately, so that no other daughter suffers the shame and humiliation which my daughter went through,” he said.
In a parochial society like Kashmir and the social stigmas attached, victims do not want to indulge in details.
Patrolling the Streets
It was on September 04, 2017 that the first such case was reported in the valley, when a teenage girl in Kokernag area of south Kashmir claimed that her hair had been mysteriously cut off.
Since then such incidents have spread throughout the valley. In order to combat the menace, the people have established civilian squads to protect themselves from these ‘braid choppers.’ Owais Wani, a resident of Pulwama, is a volunteer in one such group and says that, their group has been successful in chasing away two braid choppers from their locality. “We do these rounds only to keep our sisters safe,” he says.
Rumours and a Death
Police have arrested alleged six “rumour mongers” for spreading fake news of braid chopping in Srinagar. The police said that the “basic aim of these detained “rumour mongers” was to disrupt “peace” and “tranquility” of the Valley, so that the people of the locality take out processions against government.
Mass hysteria induced by braid chopping led to the first death of an aged civilian on October 06. Abdul Salam Wani, 70, a resident of Dantar area of district Anantnag was hit by a brick by his own relative. Salam Wani ventured out of his house in dead of the night when the village was chasing a braid chopped. One of the relatives mistook him for a braid-chopper and smashed his head with a brick. He was grievously injured and later died at a local hospital.
A local of Dantar village told sbcltr that the said relative is 8-year-old, Abdul Salam. The local said that the boy was afraid and out of fear he threw the brick at his uncle taking him for braid chopper. The family of Abdul Salam refused comment about the incident.
In Steps the High Court
Taking cognizance of the unabated braid chopping incidents, the Jammu Kashmir High Court (JKHC) has directed the state government to carry out proper patrolling to check the incidents of braid cutting.
The Court also ordered the police to adopt the technique of crime mapping to nab those involved in braid cutting incidents in the state. Talking to sbcltr, former Jammu Kashmir Bar Association President and senior advocate Nazir Ahmed Ronga said, “Braid Chopping is a mystery. It is done to create insecurity and unrest among people.”
Taking a dig at the coalition government of Peoples Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party, Ronga told sbcltr, “We don’t understand why police is lagging behind in performing their duties and the government is delaying the matter by not solving it. More delay will only lead to more chaos. “HC has taken the initiative and directed the Government what they should do to nab the miscreants,” he said.
Everyone across board has questioned the role of Jammu & Kashmir Police in tackling the braid chopping incidents. In many cases, when the braid chopper was caught by the locals, it was the police who did not follow up with the proper investigation and in many cases the culprits were directly or indirectly “protected” by the police.
Mantasha sums up the ordeal of Kashmiri women in an apt way. She says, “ the society needs to understand that the honour of women is not in their hair and nor are women victims. Those who have been attacked need counseling and confidence. After all hair grows back, the loss isn’t irreparable. What is worrisome is the violation of private spaces which is not done only through braid chopping but a myriad of other ways.”