SRINAGAR: The braid chopping incidents in Kashmir have not only caused fear among the people, especially the womenfolk, but have the proportion of turning into a major political crisis as separatist and opposition leaders have upped the ante to corner the PDP-BP coalition government.
In less than a month, about 100 braid cutting incidents have been reported from across the Valley.
First reported in Jammu, these incidents started in the Valley from south Kashmir’s Kulgam district early this month and quickly spread to central and north Kashmir while Srinagar, the summer capital of the State, has not remained unaffected and most areas have reported braid cutting incidents.
The braid cutters, according to victims, spray certain chemicals on the faces of their victims before cutting their braids and in some instances, the braid cutters have also reportedly snatched gold ornaments of the victims.
The incidents have taken place both in isolated and congested areas, mostly early in the morning or late in the evenings, triggering an outcry and near daily protests.
During the protests, women protesters have shown anger and vent their ire against Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
However, despite protests and formation of vigilant groups by people, there has been no letup in such incidents.
The incidents have caused fear among the womenfolk of all ages, who now fear to venture out of their homes.
“We don’t even feel safe in our homes now and due to extraordinary fear, we keep windows closed and doors locked,” said Zahida, a working woman in Srinagar.
There have also been incidents when people caught and beat suspected braid choppers, who later turned out to be innocent.
In one such incident last week, a 70-year-old man died of grievous injuries when he was mistaken as a braid chopper and attacked with a brick by his nephew in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
Police also rescued some foreign tourists and non-local labourers from Srinagar when they were being mistaken for braid cutters.
With fear looming large, there is likelihood that braid-chopping incidents if not taken seriously by the government would lead to major political crisis in the State.
The separatist leaders, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, who spearheaded over five-month-long unrest in the Valley after Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing last year, blamed security forces and government for braid-chopping incidents.
Terming it an attack on the dignity of the women, they have begun to issue protest programmes against the braid chopping incidents and on their call, Kashmir observed a complete shutdown on October 9.
The government also closed all educational institutions in Valley today in view of the student protests called by separatists against it. The separatists have also called for peaceful Friday protests.
According to political analyst, Aadil Ahmad, there is anger among people against the government for not doing anything to stop these incidents.
“If government doesn’t do anything concrete soon to stop these incidents, there is likelihood that it can turn into a major political crisis in the State and become another headache for the embattled Mehbooba Mufti government,” he said.
The opposition National Conference has also increased heat on the government with the party’s youth and women activists staging protests in Srinagar and asking the government to act against the braid choppers.
Police has forced Special Investigation Teams (SITs) to probe the incidents but so far failed to solve a single case and made no arrests.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir, Muneer Ahmad Khan, told New Indian Express that 100 incidents of braid chopping had been reported in the Valley so far and 100 cases registered by police.
He said no victim had come forward to cooperate with the investigation agency and no victim deposed before police to inform what happened.
“We issued 107 notices urging victims to depose before police but none has come forward and no victim wants to be put to sustained questioning,” the IGP said.
He said the braids reportedly chopped had not been produced before police.
The IGP said police has now directed hospitals to maintain proper record of the victims and take their blood samples to know what kind of chemicals were sprayed.
“If we go by the study carried out by UP, Rajashhan Haryana after braid cutting incidents there, than it is certainly a mass hysteria syndrome for attention seeking,” Khan said.
With police unable to crack a single case or achieve any breakthrough, J&K High Court stepped in and directed the government to submit the list of braid chopping cases and FIRs registered by police by Friday (October 13).
“When a person accused of stone-pelting is arrested within minutes, how braid chopper escapes so easily?” senior advocate and civil society member G N Shaheen told the High Court.