Kashmir: Braid-chopping incidents continue unabated across the Valley

Srinagar: As the incidents of braid-chopping continue unabated, panic grips valleyites. Women-folk, in particular, prefer to stay indoors. As a result, hustle and bustle in the markets has declined.

In the absence of any breakthrough by police and administration, local people have themselves devised community-level mechanisms to curb the menace. Night patrolling by youth coupled by installation of home security systems such as CCTV cameras and video door-phones has increased manifold. Still a large section of the population lives under constant fear with no let-up in the incidents of braid-chopping. The worse matter is that most of these incidents took place within the four walls of the respective victim houses. “We are scared of stepping out of our houses and even opening the windows of our houses as many incidents of braid-chopping has taken place within the four walls of houses,” said a group of women while talking to MG, adding “the situation becomes worse when police fails to nab even a single culprit.”

As the sun sets, almost no activity is seen around. Lanes and by-lanes present a deserted look and people shut their doors and prefer to remain indoors. All of a sudden an alarm is raised and a group of people shouting, whistling, and carrying long sticks (dandas) emerge on the streets and maintain night vigil at least for a couple of hours. Prior to this, announcements are made from mosques using loudspeakers at the local level asking one male family member from every house to gather for night vigil. The scare within the four walls of the house is no less and even the slightest breeze causes distraction and family inmates start peeping through windows to make sure that everything is alright. “It is strange that in the modern era of technology, police is unable to make any breakthrough,” said the women.

Even during day time, people bolt the main entrance gates of their houses causing lot of inconvenience to inmates. Every time any family member leaves or enters the house the gates are to be closed or opened accordingly. Even frequency of street vendors selling articles from house to house has drastically dropped. 

“We as a society are living in continued fear and apprehension but rulers and their police are clueless. Somebody calls it mass hysteria and some mere hoax. Nobody is coming with any clear proof,” said JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, addressing a gathering at Chrar-e-Sharief at the Urs of revered Sufi saint Sheikh Noorudin Wali, October 17, adding“Hundreds of our sisters have been left shaken by some unknown assailants. Police take no time and act faster than light to identify even masked stone-pelters, arresting separatist leaders and foiling peaceful protests but have failed to identify the hands behind braid-cutting.” State Commission for Women too has questioned the investigation by police in incidents of braid-chopping saying they have failed to share details of the probe done so far (October 18).

Braid-chopping incidents triggered mob-violence, protests and clashes. Youth took to streets and fought pitched battles with security forces, who in turn lobbed tear gas shells to disperse them. While protestors at many places accused police of shielding culprits, there have been such instances as well where mobs thrashed innocents mistaking them for braid-choppers. Many girls and women have told their families and police that unknown persons chopped their hair after knocking them unconscious with some spray.

Special Investigation Teams (SITs) have been framed to probe such incidents, yet no arrest has been made so far. The police has also announced a reward of Rs six lakh for credible information leading to arrest of any person behind braid-chopping incidents and helplines too have been created.

Recently, protests were held at various places here following braid-chopping incidents at Hazratbal (October 19), Rambagh (October 17), Lal Bazar (October 17), Narparistan Fathekadal in old Srinagar (October 17) where the victimsuffered fracture in neck during confrontation and the braid of victim’s niece was earlier chopped off, Maisuma (October 16), Hawal (October 16) after the students of Islamia College staged protest against braid-chopping incidents, Awantipora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district (October 16) and Sopore in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district (October 16).

People thrashed three Territorial Army personnel and set their vehicle on fire after checking their identity cards at Akhal Kangan in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district (October 17). The three Territorial Army personnel traveling in a private car were reportedly moving in a suspicious manner when a group of people stopped them and demanded their identity cards. As the identity cards revealed that they worked for Army, people mistook them as braid-choppers and thrashed them before Army fired some rounds in air to rescue them. This infuriated people and they set the car on fire. As police rushed to the spot, people pelted stones on them, prompting them to lob tear gas shells. Police claimed that three Territorial Army personnel were on their way to a house to attend a marriage ceremony when people checked their identity cards and thrashed them. Similarly, locals in Baghna Noorkhaw in Boniyar Uriin north Kashmir alleged that four armed men in uniform were moving in suspicious condition and when locals stopped them, they claimed that they were militants, but people doubted their version and caught them. Three men fired in air and managed to escape while the fourth one was caught and thrashed before the the Army could rescue him. Similarly, locals in Redi Chowkibal in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district alleged that they caught a braid-chopper who upon identification said that he was from Territorial Army and a joint team of police and Army rescued him. A video of the incident later went viral on social networking sites.

Similarly, after receiving information that a mob had caught an alleged braid-chopper in Sopore in north Kashmir, police rushed to the spot and found that he was being ruthlessly beaten (October 20). Police claimed that miscreants had also burnt some grass and were trying to set the person ablaze and some were even trying to run a tractor over him. Police, however, rescued him and shifted him to hospital. The person was later identified as Wasim Ahmad Tantray, a mentally-challenged resident of Puth Khah Nowpora in Sopore. Police registered an FIR in the case and said that it has identified the culprits. Wahid Manzoor, 18, a resident of Rainawari-Srinagar, sustained pellet injuries on his body including his right eye, when the police allegedly tried to disperse youth who ran after alleged braid-choppers on October 13. The police, however, asserted that there were no protests in the area on that day.

Four people were injured when Army opened fire to disperse protesters following an alleged braid-cutting attempt at Wularhama-Pahalgam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district (October 18).The incident took place after local residents chased an alleged braid-cutter who tried to flee in an Army vehicle.The incident triggered protests and police and security forces resorted to teargas shelling and firing pellets. Soon after the incident, the authorities suspended mobile internet service in Anantnag and neighboring Kulgam district. Police, however, said that as a security force vehicle was passing through the area, it was stopped by protesters who tried to deflate its tyres. “As the mob went violent, the Army had to open fire in which four persons received injuries and all are stable.” Army’s Srinagar-based spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia, in a statement hereOctober 18said,“A mob which had gathered near Wularhama-Pahalgam blocked the road when an army patrolling party was passing through the area. The party commander requested the mob to give way. However, some instigators baselessly alleged that a braid-chopper had mounted the army vehicle and started closing in on the army column. The party commander at this point warned the crowd and fired a few rounds in air to disperse them. In the meantime, company commander’s party also arrived at the venue and made repeated appeals to the mob to keep away and let the army patrol proceed. The mob started heavy stone-pelting at the army vehicle and people started moving dangerously close to the troops. After company commander gave a final warning, the troops first fired in air, but when the crowd didn’t relent and continued to throw stones causing injury to troops, he was left with no option but to open fire at them in self-defence exercising utmost restraint to minimize casualties.”

Condemning the Army action, General Secretary of the ruling PDP, Rafi Ahmad Mir, emphasized that the Army firing needs to be investigated. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association in a statement here on October 19 maintained that when the braid-choppers were caught by people at Kulgam, Kupwara and Uri, the police and Army immediately rushed to spot and resorted to firing and teargas shelling to rescue them and it is exactly what has happened at Wularhama-Pahalgam, where a braid-chopper, who attempted to cut the hair of a local woman was spotted by people who tried to catch hold of him but he took shelter in an Army vehicle that was doing rounds of the village and to save him Army resorted to indiscriminate firing that caused chaos and confusion and injuries to many.

Police on October 12 said that the braid-chopping victims would undergo Lie Detection Tests and Narco Analysis. Reacting to this, Dukhtaran-e-Millatgeneral secretary, Nahida Nasreen in a statement here on October 14said that the police instead of acting against braid-choppers has suggested conducting these tests on the victims to further harass and victimize them. Police should instead conduct Narco tests on the persons who are caught. She added, “the way these persons disappear only suggests that they are well-trained and whenever this incident happens, army cordons off the whole area within minutes. It has also been seen that when some perpetrators were caught by people, security forces came and rescued them at several places.”

Inspector General of Police, Kashmir range, Muneer Ahmad Khan, addressing media here on October 16 ruled out any possibility of conducting lie detection test on the victims and said that the “investigation into the incidents was not done in a proper manner due to lack of cooperation from the victims or their families.” He said that scientific examination of braid-chopping victims would be conducted and directions have been passed to all SPs and SHOs to collect blood and hair samples of victims to ascertain the nature of the mysterious spray.

While National Conference president Dr. Farooq Abdullah (October 17) termed braid-chopping a conspiracy hatched to harass common people, senior PDP leader and Minister for Education Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari (October 10) called it a phobia aimed to divert the attention of students from academics. The Joint SeparatistLeadership in a statement here on October 19 warned of a peoples’ movement against the growing incidents of braid-chopping. The trio called for protests after Friday congregational prayers on October 20 against braid-chopping and called for a shutdown on October 21. They also appealed to the people not to thrash any suspects and “instead hand them over to Masjid committees”.