Hair tied in a bun, pepper spray in their handbag

Hair tied in a bun, pepper spray in their handbag

Women brace themselves to fight ‘braid chopping’

SRINAGAR: As incidents of braid chopping rise across Kashmir, the phenomenon has created a sense of fear among women and forcing them to stay indoors.
Scared, women report experiencing ‘trust deficit’ as they find it hard to trust strangers – if a person knocks the door, people suspect him of being a braid chopper.
Some women reported spending sleepless nights in fear as number of news reports about braid chopping incidents grew. “I used to get bread early in the morning but since the braid chopping incidents grew, I prefer to go without bread with the morning tea,” said Asma Saif, a student who lives in a rented room here.
“In the morning, someone was knocking our gate. I grew scared till he raised his voice and said ‘I am not a braid chopper I am electrician’. Only then did I feel a little relaxed,” she added.
Since the ‘braid chopping’ incidents grew, women have begun to change their lifestyle to mitigate the apparent threat. Saba Fazili, a teacher, said that she now ties her hair up in a bun, and doesn’t let her scarf fall off her head. “I have become very conscious. When I walk through narrow lanes, I constantly keep looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one is following me,” she said.
Uzma, a undergraduate student said that she keeps a pepper spray with her all the time. “Whenever I am walking alone, I take it along,” she said.
Saba accuses the government of adopting a “skewed approach” to tackle the phenomenon, but believes that women “voluntarily should help each other”. To tackle the fear, she says women “have to stick together” as they “can’t walk alone” while families are worried as young women step out for study and work. “The government should take strict action,” she said.
Some women even report that burqa-clad women are finding themselves in the net of suspicion. It is the lack of any headway on part of investigating agencies that has resulted in a wide spread anxiety.
“I don’t feel secure now. Sitting in my room alone, I look at my windows frequently to satisfy myself that everything is fine,” Tawseem, another teacher, said. “I recite verses of Quran while leaving home for work. I usually took shorter routes, but now I take long routs to avoid being found alone when I leave in the morning.”
Tabish Khan, a resident of Soura questions government failure to find the persons involved, and stresses that stereotypes associated with violence against women are getting currency because of ‘braid chopping’.
“There are few people who say that it is the fault of a woman that her hair gets chopped. Some even say that women’s failure to adopt burka and abaya as their dress increases the possibility of them being targeted. Can anyone tell me what was wrong with (the dress) of a 55-year-old lady? My appeal to all is please don’t give it religious colour,” Tabish said.
“If some people are interested in bringing (about) some change, braid chopping is not the way. It is (an) abusive practice.”
The anxiety among home makers about the phenomenon is as severe as working women. “I lock my door all the time. My daughter calls me again and again to check if I locked my door and tells me not to open the door for any stranger,” Rafiqa, a homemaker said. “We are scared, we don’t move freely around anymore. Every time a bad thing happens here, the target is a female. Why are not we safe in our own homes? I feel panic during the day especially.”
Even female reporters feel adversely impacted by ‘braid chopping’ incidents. “We don’t know who is at the other end. After the surge in such incidents, I think we are most traumatized because we are the first to know about it,” said Insha Latif, a Reporter. “I used to travel back home late in the evening, but now I leave from office early in the fear that I may be attacked. It comprises my performance at work. Now I have to be careful in talking to strangers about my story as well.”



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