Braid chopping in Kashmir continues amid mob justice, cash rewards and strikes

Srinagar (10 October 2017): Thirty-four-year-old Gulshana Begum was allegedly attacked by two masked men at her residence in Batamaloo-Srinagar and her braid chopped off. The incident took place early this month as the two masked men reportedly approached Begum, sprayed something on her and chopped her braid (October 8). Her husband, Mohammad Akhtar, an auto-rickshaw driver, had gone out to purchase bread. The incident triggered protests in the area with locals accusing police of inaction. The next day, local residents, mostly women took to streets to protest against braid chopping and demanded the arrest of the culprits. In turn, police and security forces resorted to teargas shelling to disperse them.

Streets present a deserted look in commercial hub Lal Chowk here on October 9 in view of a shutdown called by Joint Separatist Leadership including chairmen of both factions of Hurriyat Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik against the growing incidents of braid chopping across the Valley.

Miles away, braid of another woman, almost of same age, was chopped off the same day after she went out to purchase bread early morning in Khrew in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The woman fell unconscious after unknown persons reportedly sprayed something on her and instantly chopped off her braid. Though police said that they have lodged an FIR in the case but they have so far been clueless about dozens of hair chopping incidents being reported from different parts of the Valley over the past month or so. Many girls and women have told their families and police that unknown persons chopped off their hair after knocking them unconscious with some spray.The police have formed Special Investigation Teams (SITs) to probe the incidents and have also established helplines, apart from announcing a cash reward of Rs six lakh for credible information leading to the arrest of any person behind braid chopping incidents.

Women are not the only victims of these incidents. Unknown persons chopped off the beard of a Masjid Imam, Molvi Ghulam Nabi Ghorsi, in central Kashmir’s Chrar-e-Sharief in Budgam district, on October 6. Ghorsi was on his way to lead the morning prayers when his beard was chopped off by unknown persons.

Though no arrests in the braid chopping incidents have been made so far, angry mobs have thrashed many mistaking them for braid choppers. Abdul Salam Wani, 70, mistaken as braid chopper, was killed after he was attacked with a brick in Danter village of south Kashmir Anantnag district, October 5. Wani had apparently gone out to answer nature’s call. He was shifted to district hospital where he succumbed to his injury. In another incident, a group of foreign tourists, mistaken as braid choppers, were rescued by police after they were being threatened by a mob,October 8. Police said the tourists were returning from Ladakh, when a group of youth mistook them as braid choppers and held them up after they reached Rainawari in Srinagar. Some locals tried to rescue them and called police that reached the area and rescued the group, police added. Similarly, four rag-pickers mistaken as braid-choppers were rescued by police in Gandbal Soiteng, on the outskirts of Srinagar city, after some people reportedly floated a rumour that they were braid choppers, October 9, police said. The rag pickers were abruptly surrounded by a mob and abused and heckled, police said, adding that they rushed to the spot and filed an FIR in the case. The police appealed to people to cooperate with them and not to fall prey to rumour-mongering.

Local residents in Kangan in Ganderbal district in central Kashmir allegedly mistook a mentally-challenged man for a braid chopper and thrashed him, October 7. The man was caught by the locals after he was found moving “suspiciously” in the main market and was carrying a handbag that raised suspicion. Then the crowd gathered, caught hold of him and thrashed him, before being handed over to police. Police claimed that the man was mentally unstable and a torn and an empty bag was recovered from him. Later, an FIR was lodged against six persons for spreading rumours over braid chopping and for disturbing law and order.

Police further claimed that two persons were captured by local residents at Nishat in Srinagar, October 6 and were accused of being braid choppers. They were severely thrashed by the locals till police reached the spot and took the duo in their custody. Police identified one of the two persons as Sameer Ahmad Khan son of Noor Muhammad of Ahmad Nagar, who runs a boutique at Gojwara-Srinagar under the banner of ‘Silayee Ghar’. He, along with his friend Tahir Ahmad Beigh, son of Ghulam Qadir Beigh of Gojwara, had gone to collect some material from one of his customers, a girl (name withheld) resident of Ishber-Nishat. “The girl is also sister-in-law of Sameer’s brother. As the duo approached the girl’s house, some persons raised an alarm taking them as braid choppers. Meanwhile, several other residents gathered and started beating them mercilessly. They could have been lynched if the police had not rescued them,” police said. Police added that some Facebook and Whatsapp user groups spread rumours that the arrested boys had admitted that they were “braid choppers”. Police registered an FIR against them.

“Police don’t have a Jaadu ki chadi (magical wand),” said the state Police Chief Dr S P Vaid here on October 8, while speaking to media on the sidelines of a function, adding that there has been no breakthrough so far into these mysterious braid chopping incidents. Police (October 6) rued lack of public support in solving the mystery behind braid-chopping incidents and stressed that all the accused handed over to them were found innocent.

In view of unabated braid chopping incidents across the Kashmir Valley, students of Government College for Women here on October 7 staged a protest against what they termed as “an attack on the dignity of a woman”. The students demanded its immediate end and reiterated that they will hit the streets in case the administration fails to nab the culprits.

Protests erupted in Karfalli mohallah-Habba Kadal in Srinagar, October 10 against braid chopping of a woman, who was also reportedly hit by a brick. Women workers of the opposition National Conference led by MLA Habba Kadal and party’s women’s provincial president, Shameema Firdous, staged a protest against the alleged failure of the government to prevent braid-chopping in the Valley, October 10. The MLA demanded resignation of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti for “failing to provide security to women.” Firdous had on October 7 blamed the right-wing Hindu radical organization RSS for braid chopping incidents stating it was “unleashing a reign of fear.’’ She termed the braid chopping incidents ‘unacceptable and attacks on Kashmiri women’s dignity.” Firdous suggested that the High Court should take a suo-motto cognizance of the events. “The incidents have taken place in mysterious circumstances and each time the choppers are either shielded or provided a safe passage by the security forces. Their vehicles and patrolling parties have been seen close to the areas where such incidents occurred.” The legislator alleged that RSS and their leaders have been spewing venom against Kashmiri people and about three months back, they publicly said that they were training their workers to counter stone-pelters in Kashmir. “So I believe that they have already entered the Valley and are busy in braid chopping,” argued Firdous. She added if a single stone-pelter is wanted in a case, police makes his arrest possible in no time and books him under Public Safety Act (PSA). “It is so sad that they are not paying any serious attention to the braid chopping incidents, which are increasing”.

Condemning braid chopping, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in an emailed statement here on October 10 blamed the state for showing immense negligence in stopping such incidents. “The braid chopping is an attack on the freedom of women in Kashmir and violates the religious sentiments of the people. There is a confusion and chaos in the society due to the braid chopping and the state instead of nabbing the culprits is doing nothing,” pleaded its chairperson Parveena Ahanger. Terming braid chopping as a crime against humanity, General Secretary of the High Court Bar Association here on October 10 alleged that the state government has miserably failed to protect people from “the onslaught of this terror tactic and that it was basically a game plan of Indian intelligence agencies.” The statement further stated that at many places, where the braid choppers were caught by the people, they were later freed by Army, who resorted to aerial firing and fired some shells to disperse the locals. At many other places, culprits were handed over to police but they too were released by them on the ground that they were not involved in braid chopping, though, they had been caught red-handed, added the statement. The Bar Association also stated that by not acting against the culprits, it is clear that police and other agencies are hand-in-glove with each other and on one hand people are threatened and terrorized while on the other, braid choppers are provided protection.

A day-long shutdown called by the Joint Separatist Leadership including chairmen of both factions of Hurriyat Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Mohammad Yasin Malik was observed here on October 9 against the growing incidents of braid chopping in the Valley. The Joint Separatist Leadership in a joint statement said that braid chopping incidents were “part of a well-thought out conspiracy.” Markets presented a deserted look, commercial establishments and educational institutions remained closed and thin movement of traffic was witnessed on the roads, October 9. The government had imposed restrictions in several areas of the old city to thwart protests against braid-chopping incidents.

Apart from the social impact, braid chopping has economic impact as well resulting in dip in businesses and public movement particularly during evening hours. At least 50 incidents of braid chopping have been reported from Kashmir till date and 40 FIRs have been registered in various police stations, but no one has been arrested so far. Braid-chopping has created a fear psychosis among masses, especially women. Even night vigil and patrol through different villages and city areas is being maintained by the local community itself to curb the incidents of braid chopping.