By Amir Ashraf
Social media , these day, s is abuzz with “Braid Chopping incidents” in Kashmir. You surf the internet and you see videos pop up about braid choppers being caught in different areas .Most of the videos appear same in content where you see a person being dragged and beaten to pulp by frenzied mob. Not only on social media, the topic is a public discourse these days, where ever you go and it continues to spread like wild fire engulfing everyone and instilling fear in our women folk, in particular.
A few days back, a person went live on Facebook. What I saw was total chaos on the screen. A person, accused of being a braid cutter , was half stripped and thrashed by the locals of an area in Anantnag. He was carrying a bottle, which people perhaps mistook with chloroform or a spray used on people before chopping off hair. People were inquiring whether he was a braid chopper and apparently trying to get a confession right from the horse’s mouth.
Between a dose of slaps and hits, he was getting, he repeatedly asked for water. I didn’t know how to react on that. I was curious about the result but the video ended in a disappointment. The man only confessed that he was a thief and the connection was interrupted. Many such videos are increasing in circulation on social media where we see a person accused of braid chopping beaten blue and black.
With each passing day, the consequences are turning deadly. I was shell shocked to hear the news of a brazen incident of mistaken identity of an elderly man who was killed after he was hit by a brick in Danter area of Anantnag town, Friday, on the suspicion of being a Braid chopper.
Another video, I came across yesterday, was one in which a boy was being trampled upon and a voice in the video was suggesting to get petrol and burn him alive.
Later, he was handed over to police and it turned out that the boy was in love with this girl whom he had gone to meet. The meeting with his beloved turned out to be a nightmare when the locals of that area mistook him to be a braid chopper. Even though this incident sounds funny, but the issue is very serious and so are the consequences.
Many victims, somehow, land in between a furious mob and don’t even get a chance to explain their presence or situation. Incidentally and unfortunately, I had been in a similar situation few years back while working in Mumbai.
I was then working on a film. I vividly remember the fateful day when I was asked to do a reconnaissance of the locations where we were supposed to shoot. I was new to Mumbai- a month old in the city. After researching a bit, I went out to take pictures of the references. While scouting, I reached an area which I thought, was what the director needed in terms of the locations. I was supposed to bring in the pictures of different mosques as well. I chose a mosque and began to click some shots from a distance.
The plan was to observe it from outside and, if it fit the bill, I would click it from the inside with proper permission from the concerned people.
As soon as I entered the mosque, a wiry, middle aged man, in white pathani suit ,turned me around to inquire what I was doing. Without letting me answer, he asked me to show him the permission as he saw me clicking pictures from a distance. I told him that I was working for a director who had sent me on this assignment. He asked for my identity card. I took it out of my wallet and showed it to him. Just a glance at the card and his eyes were wide open. The man looked at me from head to foot and asked if I was a Kashmiri? I nodded and said yes. The question he posed to me next shocked me: “What were you about to do ?”.( kya karne wale they yahan?)
He called other people who were offering Salah (Prayer) and showed them my I- card and told them how he caught me clicking pictures. I was astonished to see them draw their own conclusions without even letting me speak a word. Someone directed them to close the gate. In a few seconds, I was in between a crowd of more than 100 people, who perhaps thought of me as someone who was planning to blow up the area.
They then started interrogating me. Where have you come from? What are you doing here in Mumbai? They all started hurling abuses at me. Some even turned up their sleeves. I was dumbstruck thinking about the situation I was in. What scared me the most was the feeling that I was thousands of miles away from my home in the midst of some people who were about to perhaps lynch me. Everything turned into anarchy within seconds. I was trying my best to explain my position but nobody seemed interested in my answers .Amidst a frenzied mob, what caught my attention was someone asking to bring an iron rod. The older men who I thought would understand me and convince the younger lot to , at least, listen to me , were just watching.
We usually expect our elders in Kashmir to be compassionate and judicious during such incidents but to my surprise they ordered to take away my phone and laptop to check for clues. They were even more enraged to see the pictures of lanes, by lanes and other locations around the mosque in my phone. “Ye toh poori tayari karke aayahai(This boy has come with a full-fledged plan), “said an old man.
I was cursing my fate. Everything seemed to be getting out of hand. They ordered others to break my phone and laptop first and then my bones.”Dekh kyarahe ho, iski hadiya toad do. Maar do isko”. (What are you waiting for, just beat him black and break his bones)
At this point, I didn’t care for my gadgets anymore. I prepared myself for a beating. What I was thinking was whether they were going to kill me or leave me half dead? Would I be taken to a hospital or would they just leave me there to bleed to death?.I wasn’t coming to terms that my life was going to end in such a ruthless manner.
As they were about to pounce on me, I thought of trying a last option to save myself. I told them that i had a proof of my innocence. It was in the laptop. They didn’t hand over the laptop to me but asked me to direct them to the drive. I showed them the clips of shows I had hosted and some news stories I had reported while at the University.
It was after almost 15 minutes of viewing content on my laptop that they finally asked to call my director. I made them talk to him and he assured them that I was working with him on a film.
It was after almost half an hour of intimidation, confrontation and a mad chaos, I managed to get out of that place alive. I thanked Allah for It was no less than a miracle that I ultimately escaped unhurt.
The videos I come across these days took me down the memory lane. I am wondering whether we Kashmiris are hurtling towards the same “mobocracy” that we used to condemn tooth and nail at any mob lynching committed by cow vigilantes in India. An atrocious new moral order is unfolding, irrigated by the blood of our own Kashmiris. The violence is such that the victims are easily turned into perpetrators and the crowd just takes the law in their own hands. What I find troubling in these circumstances is that the accused have no chance to respond to accusations because the crowd just pounces on him/her. All I can say is that crime cannot be stopped with another crime and as we say mob justice is no justice.
—The author is in the media production business. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org