Frightened, people observe night vigils
ASIM SHAH/ISHFAQ RESHI/MUSHTAQ AHMAD
SRINAGAR: Incidents of braid chopping continue to pour in from different parts of Kashmir – a woman in Sopore claimed that her tresses were shorn off by an unidentified man on Tuesday while a minor in Budgam claimed that two men held her at the point of a knife and chopped off her hair on Monday.
People in different areas have begun to lead night vigils and petrol the streets to prevent any more attacks. Families now hesitate to allow young women leave the house without an older family member, especially a male. Most parents now prefer to accompany their school going daughters to the school or to the bus stop and back.
In the first of such incidents over the last 48 hours, thirty-five-year-old, Afroza, from Seer village of Sopore in Baramulla district claimed that a unidentified man chopped off her locks while she was attending a meal. The incident is the first of its kind in Sopore area, although the phenomenon, first reported from south Kashmir, has swept the valley.
The woman’s family said that they witnessed “suspicious movement” the night before in a room in their house. “When my husband Zahoor Ahmad went to check, he found a window broken. Someone had escaped (through the window) from our house,” Afroza said. “I was scared. We raised hue and cry, our neighbours came out of their house and chased that person but he escaped, our family didn’t sleep the whole night.”
Afroza said that on Tuesday morning, her mother-in-law again noticed suspicious activity in the house. “I was on the veranda when my mother in law signalled from the window that someone was (hiding) inside our house. I immediately grabbed my son and ran away and began an alarm. Our neighbours came out of their houses and one of them even threw a big rock towards that person, but he escaped again. No male member was present in our house as they had already left for their daily work,” Afrooza said.
“After some time, I thought that I will go inside to check the meal I had left cooking. Someone grabbed me and put his hand on my mouth. I went unconscious. When I opened my eyes, I saw people around me and my locks were cut,” Afrooza said.
SHO Sopore, Sabzar Ali, said that police have begun an investigation into the matter.
On Monday, a similar incident was reported from Saidpora village in Beerwah area of Budgam district where, around 1 p.m., 16-year-old student, Gousia, daughter of Abdul Razzak Parra, claimed that two youth caught hold of her in their kitchen and held her on the point of a knife while they chopped off her hair. The victim said that the two were waiting in the kitchen while she worked in the nearby fields, and attacked her as soon as she entered the kitchen.
Gousia said that she was frightened and felt motionless when she saw the two men carrying a knife and an axe with them. “One staying guarding the door. The other one chopped off my hair,” says Gousia. “The two men didn’t speak even a word.”
As news of the incident spread, residents took to the streets to protest the incident which has left the area panic-stricken. Villagers have begun to organise night vigils during which they carry axes and spades, iron bars, and sticks. On the roads, vigilante groups stop vehicles and ask drivers to turn off their head lights. They frisk the vehicles before allowing them to pass through their ‘checkposts’.
Some allege that army and police was letting go “the culprits caught during the incidents”, thus sparking protests. Others draw a comparison with ghost stories that made rounds in Kashmir in 1990s’.
“Those ghosts of that time had long nails. It created a widespread scare,” he said, alleging that the state machinery could be behind the “braid-chopping incidents” to “reinforce this in our minds that we are not safe in our own place.”
Muneer Ahmad, a resident of Baramulla, said that his cousin’s family in Pattan forced him to accompany her to Srinagar and did not allow her travel alone. “We reached Srinagar on my motorcycle. She went for her classes while I waited outside for hours. By the time we reached Srinagar, her faily called us at least six times to know about her safety,” Muneer said. “Her parents have also instructed everyone in the house not to open their main gate without proper enquiry.”
Gulam Mohiudin, a parent from old town Baramulla said that his young daughter was a student of Noor Ul Islam school in the town and went to school by herself. Not anymore. “After the incidents of braid chopping, I can’t allow my daughter to go to school without one of our family members (accompanying her),” he said. “Every day, I also visit her school in the morning and evening.” He said he also stopped tuitions of his second daughter “because of threat of braid chopping”.
Among several such measures that people take to counter ‘braid chopping’ – people report the incident leaves women in distress – being vigilant of any suspect movement and verifying the credentials of strangers who might come to your house are strictly enforced. Shakeel Ahmad, another resident of Baramulla town, said “I go to work every morning and my wife is home all day. I have told her not open the gate for any person in the day.” Shakeel says that the rule applies to relatives and friends – “whether mine or hers” – too as “we can’t trust any person”.
People report that visiting relatives and friends has become harder as moving freely in other neighbourhoods has become suspicious. Shabir Ahmad from Pattan said, “Yesterday, I was attending a wedding of one of my relatives in Yall village and when I went to a shop here for buying a few things for the wedding, people were watching my movement. One young man asked me where I was going and where I had come from. I had to explain my purpose.” He said it was very difficult for people, especially young men, to visit places after such incidents.
Police has been stressing that people should not take the law in their hands, but has made little headway in ascertaining who was behind braid chopping incidents.
Fresh incident of braid cutting was reported in Narvani village of Shopian. Rayees Ahmad a local resident said that in early morning of Tuesday some unidentified men attacked Shafiqa Banoo wife of Ghulam Hassan Wani when she went to bathroom. She is mother of four children.
This was the second such incident in village. On Monday morning a class 10 th girl’s braid was also chopped.