Malwan’s Braid Choppers

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Mysterious hair cutting incidents started in central India early this year and literally followed the road to Kashmir. Restricted to restive South Kashmir, Kulgam periphery is the worst affected where dozens of incidents have created serious law and order situations resulting in aerial firing, twice. Umar Khursheed met a number of women who survived without their braids

On September 23, morning Fancy Jan, 17, of Naikpora Kulgam was told by her mother to get the breakfast ready for the family. She was in the middle of tea making that she wanted to tell her grandma that she must get up to have tea.

It was at that moment when she was attempting to stand up that she fell unconscious. Almost at the same time her grandmother Rehti, 68, felt some substance was sprayed or sprinkled by the alleged braid chopper which made Fancy dizzy. Rehti said her vision blurred.

“When I regained my consciousness, I found myself near the kitchen with broken window fence and my chopped hair lying aside,” recalls Fancy Jan.

Shocked, the family thought keeping the secret. They did not want their daughter to be focus of attention as it leads to stigma. “But we failed,” Rehti said. “Within minutes, the news spread and people started visiting us continuously.”

It was like earthquake. Tremors followed. The next day on September 24, at 12:13 am, a shocked Fancy, went to sleep in the lobby of their newly constructed home. But when she woke up she found herself in the kitchen near the window which was open. “I looked around and found my chopped hair there,” Fancy said. “I cried for help and soon, my family was surrounding me.”

It happened on September 25, again. Traumatised by the two incidents, Fancy said she was walking towards her house someone hit her head very hard in an attempt to make her unconscious. Without making any attempt to see the person chasing her, Fancy ran into her home and locked herself up in the bathroom.

On September 26, around 11: 30 am, Fancy’s uncle Abdul Ahad Bhat 60, a shopkeeper, told her to sit with him in the shop for the whole day. “I thought she is already stressed, she will feel better there,” recalls Ahad.

Stressed, she agreed. In the shop, she was sitting in between Ahad and a relative. Suddenly Fancy felt like somebody pulled her hair forcefully. She felt unconscious. As she regained her consciousness, she felt pained. “I found out a part of my head was being shaved with a minor injury,” recalls Fancy.

Ahad said the incident happened within seconds. “I looked everywhere but failed to find anything, anyone,” Ahad said.

Fancy’s mother Dilshada 45, while wiping her tears, said they are in shock. “Neither we sleep nor we go out for any work as the fear has frustrated the whole village,” she said. Saima, Fancy’s class III younger sister, is so frightened that she has stopped eating. She does not go to school either.

On September 23, Rani Bilal 32, of Ranipora, in Kulgam’s Ikhwan Colony, left her house 8:30 pm to fetch some cooked vegetables from her neighbour. Exchange of cooked vegetables is a fading tradition in Kashmir but in certain areas it somehow exists. As she was coming back, someone grabbed her neck with a tight grip which almost suffocated Rani.

Rani fought back. “When I turned back, I found a tall masked man in front with a fair complexion,” she remembers. She grabbed his wrist and in retaliation the masked man sprayed some substance on her, “By the time I had lost my consciousness, I had once shouted and that had brought many neighbours out.”

Residents launched a manhunt but could not find even a trace of the masked man. Rani’s brother Dilawar Hussain Naiko 22, had responded to her cry for help almost barefoot. “I too felt a bit dizzy with the smell,” Hussain said. “Somehow I managed to take my sister to the district hospital for medical examinations.”

Isha, the late evening prayers, were over on September 20. Ulfat Jan 22, daughter of Wali Mohammad in Kulgam’s remote Malwan village went to washroom, located outside her house. As she was descending the stairs, she felt like someone poured a water drop on her neck “I turned back but saw just a shadow moving around me,” recalls Ulfat.

She said she could not recognize whether it was a human shadow or any other creature. Frightened, Ulfat loudly shouted for help and fell unconscious.

Homemaker Naseema Banoo 52, Ulfat’s mother, heard a loud shriek: Bobbaii Marenasi (Mother, he is killing me). Naseema rushed out into her courtyard and found Ulfat unconscious. Soon, the family discover her hair was chopped off. “She has not eaten a single morsel all these days,” says Naseema.

The next afternoon on September 21, Ulfat was in her room when she heard mother calling her to come for lunch. At the same time, someone started banging on her door. “I thought it was my mother who had came up to call me for lunch”, recalls Ulfat.

As she opened the door, it was not her mother. “It was someone who turned his head to other side to hide his face and his rest of the body was black. He tried to grab my neck but I shouted loudly. As my family rushed up he vanished from the spot.”

After several attempts of hair chopping the family is still clueless whether it was a human or any other creature.

On September 22, morning, Ulfat’s next door neighbour and maternal aunt Mehmooda 45, was sleeping with her 10 year old daughter Insha Altaf. Mehmooda wanted her daughter to get up but Insha refused. “I too thought it was early so let her sleep for a bit more,” recalls Mehmooda.

The happenings around had made Mehmooda extra-cautious. After a while, she went to check if Insha was alright. She asked her to get up but Insha did not respond. “I looked around and found her braid chopped off next to her pillow and she was  unconscious at that time also,” recalls Mehmooda.

The same evening, Mehmooda’s elder daughter Shazia 22, was in kitchen suddenly the family heard shouting from nearby home. Mehmooda took a torch and a curved knife; she along with Shazia went up to look out from the roof to see what the commotion was all about.

“In our attic, we both saw a creature whose body was black and had sharp glowing red eyes”, says Shazia. She said

She was frightened unlike her mother Mehmooda who kept chasing her, shouting: “Bunn Vous, Tukreh Karai Yeati”, (You come down, I will chop you into pieces). Unmoved, the creature kept gazing at her. Finally when  she walked a bit towards him, the creature jumped from one corner to another and finally he jumped down to the terrace. It was seen by the boy watching things from the next house. “Aunty here he is,” Mehmooda, recalls the boy saying.

After the continuous braid chopping attempts in Mehmooda’s house, her family was so frightened that they decided to sleep in a single room in first floor. Post-dinner, Shazia went up to fetch the beddings, only to see the creature again. “When I went upstairs I saw the same black creatures with sharp red eyes trying to hide himself near the cupboard,” recalls Shazia.

She cried for help, and everyone came up including Saqib, a next door neighbour. He hit the creature with a rod. The creature did not do anything but Saqib froze in a single action almost for 40 seconds. “My mom pulled him back as if he was released from an electric shock,” says Shazia.

Razia Altaf, 17, also lives in Malwan. She is a tenth standard student. On September 24, she went outside her house at 1 pm, in the middle of the day, to go to washroom. “Someone hit the back of my head very hard and I felt unconscious,” recalls Razia.  Later when her mother came to know she was being taken inside, and found out her hair braid has also been chopped off. “But I didn’t see anyone around me,” recalls Razia.

Ishrat Hassan, 16, is Razia’s classmate. She had already undergone this trauma on September 14. Around 9 pm, when she came out of her home to go to washroom, she was carrying a solar light. She kept it on veranda and moved towards the washroom when she felt she is being hit in the back of her head.

“I thought the person is going to hit my head I tried to lift my hand towards back of my head but later I don’t remember,” recalls Insha.

Ghulam Hassan Sheikh 53, her father, said that, after some time when Insha didn’t come back he came out to look for her. He was shocked to see from veranda itself that Ishrat was lying flat in the courtyard, “I cried and shouted what happened to my daughter everyone came including our neighbours,” recalls Ghulam Hassan. He found 21 inch of hair braid had been chopped off.

Frightened, Ishrat hasn’t gone to school since then. “After the incident my hair started falling with the continuous headache,” says Insha.

On the evening of September 22, Shugufta Jan 25, of Naikpora took her two years old son Faizan outside to go to bathroom. While she was going towards the bathroom, she said, she saw red human legs standing behind the bathroom. While looking at those legs, the mother and son felt unconscious. As the two did not get back, her husband went out and found them unconscious. Later she narrated the story of two legs.

Shugufta’s husband, Mohammad Iqbal 30, an embroiderer says that, it has become difficult for every man of the area to go for the work. “Imagine if we go out to work who will take care of the women of our house”, Iqbal said. “Most of the men of our village are not going for the work since the first incident took place in the area.”

Wahid Hussain Zarger 20, of Naikpora runs an embroidery workshop near his house. On September 24, he said he was sleeping in his room around 11:30 pm, when he heard frantic shouting in the neighbourhood. He said he kept himself alert because of these nocturnal tensions. Soon, he heard banging on his window. “I thought it is someone calling me to come out and see the happenings around,” recalls Wahid. “I got up and saw a man holding knife in one hand and trying to break his window with another hand. Quickly he put off the lights and started shouting for help. “I saw a blurred faced man holding a curved knife in his hand, I was very afraid.”

After Wahid switched the light on, the mysterious man tried hiding his face while pulling the window. By then, however, neighbours had come out. Within seconds, there was nothing. He slipped away. “Our area is wrapped with apple orchards so braid choppers find a simple way out to hide themselves.”

Wahid says since he has stopped moving out of his home, there are no earning. “Since last week I haven’t earned a single penny,” says Wahid. “Initially, it was about hair chopping but now males are also being targeted.”

Tariq Ahmed Kuttay 30, lives in Naikpora and  runs a mini bus. He was in his bedroom with his wife, Ruby and their son on June 30. During the night, Ruby felt someone pulling her hair. As soon as she opened her eyes, she said, she saw a man with a knife outside our window. He had already broken the fence and was attempting to chop her hair off. Ruby woke her husband up and the knife-man fled.

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