Braids and Choppers

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by Masood Hussain

Hair, Hair, Hair, it’s everywhere.

It’s in my bed; it’s on the floor,

it’s behind each and every door.

I sweep, I vacuum and I clean the drains,

But the hair comes back again and again.

One day I thought I’d start a pile,

in just three months it stretched up a mile.

My wife and daughter I believe are to blame,

to live without them would be a shame.

I guess I’ll keep fighting the piles of hair,

I wonder if they have a carpet version of nair?

                – Robert Thompson

Mysterious hair-cutting of women has reached a life threatening stage. Abdul Salam Wani, 65, in south Kashmir’s Mir Danter village was hit by a stone during dead of the night and died in SKIMS.

The crisis has gone to a level that vigilantes catch a person and seek explanation for his or her presence at a place. By the time, the person gathers courage to respond to the charged mob, he is almost half dead.

Last week, witnessed interesting instance. In Dyalgam, people caught a youth; beat him ruthlessly and finally when he got a chance to explain, he said he was a thief. Deep South, two female Kashmir University students were part of a survey group. They sought some space in a house to offer their afternoon prayers. Busy offering their prayers, they were oblivious of the fact that the door was shut on them and the entire village had assembled to interrogate the ‘braid choppers’. In a city outskirt, two young ladies tried to play smart for Wazwan. They donned burqa and went to some marriage uninvited. Well before they could taste the kebab or Gustaab, they were detected and dubbed braid choppers. Somehow they managed to save their skin.

In Sangrama, a boy in love went to see her. He was detected talking to the girl, caught and dubbed as braid chopper. The mob almost lynched him though he was crying: “Hou Baha Ousus Love Karaan”. Hours after the incident was broadcast live on Facebook, the police took his possession and broke the story. Even his lover was honest enough to grace the TV to save him. In a city locality, at least two people were handed over to police and they were happy because they were on their list as OGWs. At least in two cases, top police sources said, two soldiers had to be rescued when mobs almost caught them when they were on “covert” duties.

Braid chopping emanated from Rajasthan. In three months, it crossed many states and took a long route to Kashmir where it rolled into an instant epidemic. Kashmir matched Jammu’s 50-odd cases in a fortnight in just a few days.

Is there a possibility that some people are using the phenomenon to meet their ends? Is it a war of nerves to dominate the space and enforce no-go areas? Is it a manufactured situation in which every individual has to risk his life at a place which is not his own? There are endless questions that crop up and a windfall of benefits that could go to various “stakeholders”.

Quickly, police went into action. Apart from setting-up help lines in all districts; they announced an Rs 3 lakh reward, an amount that was quickly doubled. Many people were caught and handed over to the police but the elusive braid chopper is still wanted.

Cops investigating the trend see it as mass hysteria that inflicts a particular class. They are talking about around 35 ‘victims’ who were already being treated for depression. They say they have cases which were attacked by “choppers” more than twice at different places. Within the police, they have been discussing the opinions of some psychiatrists and psychologists but so far there is no indication of these academics and doctors becoming part of the formal crisis management. They have given the police a detailed analysis of the crisis, and a possible solution envisaging censoring all braid-cutting information in social and formal media, according to inside information. They have attributed the phenomenon in Rajasthan to superstition and faith but in Kashmir, they say, it has taken political overtones because of the massive distrust with the system and its various appendages. Having survived an overwhelming situation for nearly thirty years, tensions and depression is almost in Kashmir’s atmosphere.

But there are compelling instances in which seemingly mass hysteria theory is not holding the ground. If a woman depressed by the situation can get into an unreal being momentarily and do whatever she wishes with her braid, how is it possible for her to cut the grills of the window and then the glass panes that require two different sets of tools? And how can it be explained that all the people are wrong at the same time for so many days?

Kashmir is a place where everything is being contested and everything is suspect unless proved otherwise. Is there a possibility that some people are using the phenomenon to meet their ends? Is it a war of nerves to dominate the space and enforce no-go areas? Is it a manufactured situation in which every individual has to risk his life at a place which is not his own? There are endless questions that crop up and a windfall of benefits that could go to various “stakeholders”.

But to reassure the people that it is not what it is snowballing into, the police will have to work overtime and explain what it believes in or unmask the people who could be around, if not behind, the mass crisis. The crisis has done to Kashmir economy what de-monetization has done in plains. A place, traumatized for a long time, can ill-afford a fence-sitting system.

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