“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.”
Martin Niemoller’s lines written just after the Holocaust, ring so true every time an innocent Muslim gets lynched in Kashmir. People did not speak out when Kashmiri Pandits were killed, now there is no one left to protest the killings of Kashmiri Muslims, be it a brave soldier, a JKP cop or a 70 year old man killed with a brick because a mob suspected him of being a Braid chopper.
The mysterious phenomenon of braid chopping that began in several parts of North India, has now surfaced in Kashmir.
Almost 100 cases of hair chopping have been reported from the Valley, with no ‘culprits’ being apprehended. If reports are to be believed, Kashmir seems to be going through a frenzy of bizarre accusations followed by murderous vigilantism.
Not long ago, stray cases of mob-violence in some parts of India were enough for certain TV panelists and journalists to refer to India as ‘Lynchistan’, has Kashmir taken on that unenviable mantle now? Every day there are news-reports of brutal attacks on people as varied as a notorious motorcycle thief, a labourer from Bihar, non-Kashmiri rag pickers, a local Casanova out on a rendezvous with his lady love, security personnel taking rounds and even a group of foreign tourists!
According to ‘The Guardian’ (dated 11.10.17), recently a group of foreign tourists– a British woman, three Australians, an Irish man and a South Korean– lost their way and were attacked by a mob of a thousand men. Fortunately, the police managed to get there in time and rescued them. The mob of Vigilantes or self-appointed ‘Braid Rakshaks’, suspected these people of being Braid Choppers.
Some days back, a 70-year old Kashmiri mistaken for a hair-chopper, was lynched by these very Braid Rakshaks who mercilessly beat up two other ‘Suspects’ on the same day. Since then, houses have been burnt down and people threatened and heckled on the mere suspicion of being Braid choppers.
So what is actually happening? Women who claim to be ‘victims’, say they were attacked from behind, dragged by the hair and knocked unconscious by a spray and therefore unaware of what happened next till they woke up to find their hair had been chopped off. Some women have even claimed that their hair was chopped off more than once!
The fact that many of these young women suffer from some form of mental illness and have been unable to give any information about the identity of the alleged hair-choppers, has led the police and several psychiatrists to suspect that they could be experiencing hallucinations. It has also been suggested that it could be a manifestation of the concerned girl’s intense desire for a sense of freedom. Living as they do in a closed, oppressive society, the simple, yet repressed desire for a change of hairstyle might necessitate this elaborate enactment.
Dr. Jawad Ahmed of the Government Medical College, Srinagar, says that he was surprised that one woman reported that her hair was chopped on three different occasions. Why would anyone ‘attack’ the same woman’s hair thrice? He went on to say how people in different regions of India were giving different reasons for braid chopping, according to the beliefs prevalent in the area. In Rajasthan the ‘culprit’ was a ‘Chudail’, in UP a Tantric Gang was blamed and by the time the phenomenon reached Kashmir, the blame, predictably, fell on ‘Indian Agencies’!
There is nothing new or unique about these braid chopping incidents, they’ve been reported from several places in North India before surfacing in Kashmir.
What is different, is the reaction and the direction in which it’s being taken by ‘interested parties’! On Monday, 9th October, there was a shutdown in the Valley. The call was given by the same Separatist leaders recently discredited by the NIA. The police have noticed a systematic Social Media campaign being built up through rumours to instigate people. Is this the Hurriyat’s last ditch effort to revive their dying reputation? Now that their ‘Azadi’ has been exposed for the hoax it was, the Separatists are desperately looking for an opportunity to use gullible Kashmiris again. So they’re back to weaving their complex web of lies, accusing Indian agencies of ‘deliberately bringing dishonour to Kashmiri women.’ Calling for ‘hartals’ and protests ostensibly for ‘protecting the honour of local women’, could well be their way of clawing back to relevance.
What is being used to incite Kashmiris may be nothing but an attention-seeking phenomenon. Commenting on the earlier hair chopping incidents in other parts of north India, Dr Sudhir Khandelwal (former head of the Psychiatry Department, AIIMS) called them part of a mass hysteria where the alleged ‘victims’ sought and got attention by being interviewed and quoted in newspapers and on television.
The Braid Chopping in the Valley bring to mind Alexander Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’, a mock-epic written in 1712. This poem sought to reveal the needless fuss society makes over trifling matters such as the snipping of a lady’s lock of hair and the elevated sense of importance that some people give to their foibles. A lock of hair, or a braid in this case, is definitely not worth ‘waging wars’ over and definitely not important enough to get people lynched!