For the last nine weeks or so, Kashmir was in the grip of braid-chopping scare. The intensity of the scare was unprecedented as no such frenzy was ever seen in the past. Ever since the first braid-chopping incident, that took place on 6th September in Kulgam District of south Kashmir, the phenomenon continued unabated in the nook and cranny of our valley.
In the early nineties, shadowy figures lurking in the dark, called ‘Bhoot’ in local parlance, would instil fear among the people to the extent that no one dared to leave his or her home after the dusk. The incidents were reported from across the valley but the shadowy apparitions were never apprehended by the authorities. The recent braid chopping scare seemed to be a déjà vu of the ‘Bhoot’ incidents of yesteryears.
The braid-chopping incidents were first reported from Rajasthan, U.P, Haryana, Delhi and Jammu before this scare engulfed our valley. Were the authorities caught unawares by this scourge? Did they allow the phenomenon of braid-chopping gain momentum? Were the perpetrators-shadowy or real-given a free hand to instil fear among the gullible Kashmiris? These are some pertinent questions which stare us all in the face and seek plausible answers.
In a conflict zone like Kashmir, truth does not lie in the shades of white or black but in the complex hues of grey. The braid cutting was seen by many as a tactic to change the dominant discourse. People did not talk about article 35-A or the raids by NIA or the return of power projects by NHPC. They were grappling with an issue which has sent shivers down their spines.
Initially the authorities were swift in dismissing the cases of braid cutting as a textbook example of ‘Mass hysteria’ and personality disorders. Then, after it gained momentum like a tornado, the police announced a cash reward of six lakh for those who provide any clue regarding the braid cutters. The announcement of the reward lent weight to the braid clipping phenomenon and it lead to vigilantism in many areas where innocent people who were mistaken for braid cutters were beaten black and blue by the vigilantes. In one such blood-curdling incident, an elderly man was hit by a brick on his head and it resulted in his death. In another incident, a mentally deranged man was ruthlessly beaten by a frenzied mob and nearly burnt alive had his relatives not reached the spot on time and informed the mob that he was not mentally sound.
More than hundred incidents of braid cutting have been reported from different areas of our valley but not a single hair cutter has been apprehended or identified so far. The phenomenon of ponytail clipping has provided grist to the rumour mill and rumours are spreading like wild fire in the restive valley. The business in this Himalayan region has plummeted as the business establishments and shopkeepers have to close their business before dusk.
The psychiatrists have dismissed the hair clipping incidents as mass hysteria. They claim that in almost all the cases, the victim showed personality disorders or were suffering from neurosis. They attributed this mass hysteria to the violence which our valley has been witnessing for the last two and a half decades.
The separatists, on the other hand, have blamed Indian agencies for instilling fear among masses by launching psychological operations like braid chopping to bruise the ‘Collective psyche’ of the people. Womenfolk being vulnerable, became the soft targets.
When there is mistrust between the masses and the government and when people have no faith in the law enforcement agencies, the blame will naturally fall on the government. Ask any layman: who was behind braid chopping? He would quickly reply: The Government. The state administration failed to reach out to the people to dispel the fear generated by hair cutting. There is no disconnect between the PDP-led government and the masses, but the political pundits are of the view that the hair clipping phenomenon will cost political mainstream dearly in the next elections. The recent spurt in the attacks on some legislators was seen in this backdrop.
Besides unnerving the masses, this scare has torn the social fabric of our closely-knit society into shreds. The vigilantes wreaked havoc by beating every stranger on the suspicious of being a braid cutter. Have we become a lynch mob? Have we turned xenophobic? Has the virus of paranoia made its way into our nervous system and controls our behaviour? We are fast losing our distinctive traits like love, compassion, fellow feeling, empathy, humaneness which we had inherited from our forefathers. Is ‘Kashmiriyat’ which has survived for thousands of years and nurtured by the sufi saints losing its hold and yielding to the scourge of braid chopping?
The troubled valley has seen many dark phases. This passed. The resilience and indomitable spirit of Kashmiris surely conquered the braid chopping scare. By mutual help and understanding, we rise again like a phoenix and shoo away the scare from the abode of saints. The hairy mess needs to be untangled to expose the ugly face behind this scare. Let our values, ingrained in our DNA, define us individually and collectively. Let the light within us radiate in all directions and remove the dark clouds hovering over our motherland.
Umer wani tweets at: @umerwani99 and also can be reached at email@example.com