Nestled among the dense poplars and apple trees, Nazia’s (name changed) modest house in Quaimoh, around 60 km south of Srinagar, is being visited by scores of relatives and neighbors ever since she fell the victim of mysterious hair-chopping.
On September 29, Nazia alleges that she saw a dark image coming towards her, following which she raised an alarm. The image vanished abruptly. Next morning at 7 am, Nazia was found unconscious in her kitchen with her hair chopped.
“We don’t understand how this happened. We are mystified by the incident as all the doors and windows of our house were shut at the time of incident,” said a family member. The incident is not an isolated one, with around 40 instances of braid-chopping having been reported so far from valley.
While the family members of 33-year-old Nazia suspect the hand of some occultists, separatist leaders and militants have attributed the growing incidents of hair-chopping to security agencies.
Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Riyaz Naikoo has deemed the hair-chopping as a fresh tactic of security agencies to weaken the separatist agitation.
“Agencies have now started this new tactics to track down the militants..,” Naikoo said in a recently released audio message.
Senior separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohmmad Yasin Malik, who called for a complete shutdown on Monday, said in a joint statement that the braid-choppings were a ploy of government agencies to digress the attention from the core Kashmir issue and create a fear psychosis among the people.
While Jammu and Kashmir police has announced a reward for anyone coming forward with information on braid-choppers, no arrests have been made so far.
On October 6, a septuagenarian man Abdul Salam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district was killed after locals mistook him for the hair-chopper. Vigilantes hit Salam with a brick that resulted in his instant death.
Prior to this episode, a string of incidents involving a number of innocent civilians were mistaken for plait-slashers. A couple of weeks ago, two burqa-clad women at a marriage party were handed over to police on mere suspicion of being braid-choppers. In another incident, two youth accused of being hair-choppers were beaten up in Anantnag. As people often suspect "outsiders” of being braid-choppers, it has become rather difficult for many outsiders to work freely in Valley.
“I have restricted my movement to Srinagar only. It is very dicey to venture out in rural areas of the valley. Being a non-local, you could easily be suspected,” said Mohammad Aalm Ansari, a cloth-vendor from Patna.
The Valley in the past has also witnessed several weird and incredulous events. In 1978 and 1979, during the regime of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, a plethora of mysterious fire incidents took place across the valley causing fear among the people. People blamed the then state and central dispensation for deliberately damaging the property.
“We would call those arsonists Naar Tchoor . Although neither police nor people caught anyone burning the civilian property, people linked the incidents with the government of the day as they saw political overtones in such acts,” recalls septuagenarian Ghulam Mohmmad, a resident of Srinagar.
In 1990, Rath Tchoor (blood thieves), were believed to kill folks, particularly the children and take all blood out of their bodies. The story of blood thieves had created such a fear psychosis that people hardly would allow their children to play in nearby alleys.
Just a few years later in 1993 and 1994, grapevine about the appearance of ghosts circulated across the valley. People complained about hearing rat-a-tat on their doors in the dead of night. In some cases, people said that men sporting ghost like appearance emerged through their windows. Soon the security agencies were blamed for playing the ghosts.
In January 2017, rumours were also rife about the presence of “spy-chips” in LED lamps distributed by government on subsidy under Pradahan Mantri Ujvala Scheme.
“There is no doubt that conflict zones are always way good breeding grounds for rumors and conspiracy theories. But there are people who gain mileage of these mysterious incidents. We could not say that every hair-chopping incident is the result of some psychological disorder. A very few incidents might have taken place but people should not respond the way they do,” said a political observer wishing anonymity.