“Braid chopping incidents are attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the state. Government will ensure steps are taken to find the motives behind these attacks,’’
On Friday morning, a big crowd of around 800 people caught hold of a young man at north Kashmir’s Sopore town near Mazbough, where Asia’s second largest fruit mandi is located. The frenzied mob started thrashing the young man, who looked clueless about what was happening. He could not even defend himself when he was being severely beaten, shoved and stoned. Some over jealous youth even lit a fire and were encouraging people to throw the man in it.
The mob accused the youth of being a braid cutter. As the crowd swelled, some youth were seen asking people to turn their mobile phones off, a strategic move to set ablaze the youth without being recorded. However, the timely arrival of police saved the young man’s life. The policemen, led by two officers, dispersed the mob and took the bleeding young man to the nearby hospital.
On inquiring, the youth was identified as Waseem Ahmad Shah, a resident of Sharakwara village in Kreeri tehsil. It was later found that he was mentally challenged and used to move from one place to another without the knowledge of his family members. He was wandering near the fruit mandi when some people caught hold of him accusing him of being a braid cutter. He was critically hurt and was referred by the doctors at sub district hospital to Srinagar. Timely intervention of police saved people from committing a big sin.
Only a day before, youth carrying swords, lathis and iron rods chased a young man in his late 20’s on the basis of suspicion. In desperation, he had no option but to jump into Dal Lake. Some people tried to drown him and beat him ruthlessly, but he was finally rescued when police reached the spot. From the past few weeks, every nook and corner of the valley has been witnessing such scenes with frenzied mobs catching hold of people, majority of them being mentally challenged people, security personnel, policemen in civil clothes or tourists. They were all accused of being braid choppers.
Most of them after investigations turned out to be innocent. From the past three to four weeks there have been several claims by young and old women that unidentified persons sprayed some substance on them which rendered them unconscious and after regaining consciousness, they found their braids chopped. These braid chopping incidents sparked a series of protests in the valley with people demanding the arrest of braid choppers.
Many, including the separatist leaders termed it as a ploy by the Indian agencies to target women folk of Kashmir. Even joint resistance leadership comprising of JKLF chairman, Yasin Malik, Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and senior separatist leader and chairman of Hurriyat (G), Syed Ali Geelani called for a day long strike against the rising incidents of braid chopping. They termed the braid chopping incidents as a strategy of the Indian government to target women in Kashmir through specially trained persons.
They have also appealed to the people to hand over the braid chopping suspects to the mosque committees and not to deal with them directly. Interestingly no word of condemnation was heard from the camp against the mob justice and beating of innocents by the unruly mobs. Senior police officials and doctors term these incidents as mass hysteria, though they didn’t rule out the vested interest of people to create uncertainty in Kashmir. Officials, however said that majority of the suspected cases proved to be victims that have some psychiatric disorders.
The growing number of complaints has left the common people rattled, especially the women, who now see every unknown person as a braid chopper as rumors have engulfed in every town and village of Kashmir. There are fictitious stories and rumors making rounds about the braid choppers that have further created panic in Kashmir. Initially, the J&K government didn’t give any importance to these incidents; however, with the growing number of incidents, the government has now taken this issue seriously.
The teams comprising of police officials, officials from the state administration, health officials and members of civil societies have been constituted in every district with an aim to investigate each case of braid chopping and to provide help to the victims. The government has now realized that these incidents could trigger into a major controversy in the valley where the situation is already very disturbed.
On Wednesday, when a group of people stopped an army vehicle at Pahalgam district in Anantnag, the army opened fire on protestors who were blaming the soldiers for trying to shield the braid choppers. Five people were injured and they were shifted to Srinagar. Luckily all of them survived; otherwise a civilian killing could have triggered another series of untoward events.
Eighty five persons have been arrested in north Kashmir’s Baramulla and Kupwara district for their alleged role in instigating violence over braid-chopping incidents.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Baramulla, Imtiyaz Hussain said that majority of the people arrested for instigating violence over braid chopping are stone-pelters who were instigating others to create law and order problems and even to cause civilian deaths using braid chopping as a legitimate reason.”
However, at the top level, authorities are clueless about the perpetrators. This is now leading to chaos and confusion in the valley, despite the government having already constituted the Special Investigation Teams to probe the braid chopping incidents. Police have already announced reward of INR 6 lakhs to any person who provides information about the culprits. So far, no arrests have been made. Not a single person has been arrested who accepted to the braid chopping accusation anywhere.
Earlier there were reports that the J&K police will go for a lie detection tests to know the facts of these incidents as many officers in the police strongly believe that braid chopping is a ploy to create uncertainty in the valley.
However, Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Muneer Khan on Monday ruled out the idea of conducting lie detection tests on victims. He said that the police will only collect samples to know what type of sprays have been used on the victims and also asked for the scientific examination of victims to be conducted.
J&K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, while chairing a high level meeting of officials said that the braid chopping incidents are attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of women in the State.
“Braid chopping incidents are attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the state. Government will ensure steps are taken to find the motives behind these attacks,’’ said the J&K Chief Minister.
Earlier, chairman, J&K State Commission for Women, Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor also held an open session with the view to deliberate upon and suggest measures to address the issues arising out of the incidents of braid chopping being reported from various parts of the valley over the past several weeks.
Mehjoor expressed serious concerns over the growing incidents of braid cutting from various parts of the valley, which have given rise to fear psychosis and apprehensions in the society.
In the session, police representatives informed the commission that close to a hundred cases of braid chopping have been reported from different districts of the valley in which FIR’s have been lodged. Now the situation has taken a political turn. Recently, a senior Peoples Democratic Party leader blamed the opposition, National Conference (NC), for trying to aggravate the situation and also said that party workers of NC are behind these incidents at many places.
Even the police on Saturday said that a worker of a particular political party had tried to spread a false rumour about the incident of braid chopping in south Kashmir. Many locals see the hand of security agencies in this, as according to them, agencies want to shrink the space of militants’ especially local militants, once they move from one place to another.
There have been some incidents where militants were caught and accused of being braid choppers. The opposition parties are using these incidents to show the mirror to the government and blame them for the failure to safeguard the security of women across the state. Even NC leaders held several protests against the incidents and are using every incident of braid chopping to fulfill its political goals.
While the J&K government should wake up and start taking the issue seriously to restore the peace into the minds of people, the prevailing mob justice by the frenzied mobs and anti social elements deserves a collective condemnation by the society. No civilized society can afford to give a sanction to the mob justice and allow its people to take law into their hands. Those who might think that the mob justice can stop such incidents to happen are wrong and have forgotten that it will deeply inculcate the criminal mind set of such youth and can have dangerious consequences for our future generations.
The author is an editor of The Legitimate.