Srinagar: About a week ago, when Abdul Rashid went out for his routine work of selling cosmetic products as a hawker in Srinagar, little did he know that he would return home with muscles broken and arm injured.
For the more than 15 years that he has been in this profession, Rashid says, he has suffered nothing like this. “I have been hawking products for hair and dandruff by shouting about them. When I was in Buchpora, two boys, when they heard me shouting about hair, caught hold of me and beat me up mercilessly. I was fortunate to have escaped from the spot,” Rashid said.
In Kashmir it is said, anything is possible, anywhere and anytime. The latest mystery of braid-chopping incidents is similar to the ‘Ghost Story’ that had haunted the entire Valley in the 1990s.
While the mystery deepens, a strange drama is unfolding before people as they go about their daily lives. Many of the victims of braid-chopping have claimed that someone actually followed them and cut off their hair. Police have maintained that such claims are just the outcome of mass hysteria. In some cases the police have said that the victim had mental issues, but the families of such victims denied the police version and claimed that unknown persons committed the act and managed to flee the spot. Whatever it is, the peculiarity of this phenomenon has led some to describe it as the work of black magic. The consequences of this have been tragic. An elderly man has actually been killed in Anantnag, on the merest of suspicion, and a number of people, among them a transgender, a lover, and a mentally unsound man, have faced the ire of mobs that have attacked with the intent of lynching.
Several hawkers with whom Kashmir Reader spoke said they have stopped going door-to-door or even into the interiors of mohallas and villages as a precautionary measure. People in other professions who have to deal with strangers or have to travel to different places have also taken similar measures to avoid any confrontation. A hawker, Bashir Ahmad, who lives in Eidgah area of Srinagar, said he has been indoors since the past seven days.
“Today I had to leave for work because I couldn’t survive with empty pockets anymore,” he told Kashmir Reader. “I tried to avoid those areas where braid-chopping had happened, but after a few hours of walking I found that the entire Valley is suspicious towards strangers.” Ahmad said he did not go into the downtown areas but preferred to lay out his wares in the open market and wait for customers.
Ahmad said that as soon as people like him enter any area, everyone in the locality stares at them, till they leave. “They stare at you as if you are a dog and are about to bite, or are carrying a disease that you will transmit to them. We feel humiliated. Earlier, people especially women would happily allow us to enter their home and at times we used to enter ourselves to enquire if they were interested in buying any stuff. But now to enter any house is like inviting death,” Ahmad said.
Beggars, whom many describe as a nuisance, have also gone out of sight. Mohammad Aamir, a businessman from downtown Srinagar, said, “The only good thing this braid-chopping has done is that it has got us rid of the beggars whose numbers were rising exponentially.”
A non-Kashmiri beggar, Dinesh, said, “Given the amount of anger among locals, we will prefer death to hunger.”
While elders are advising dos and don’ts to their family members, the young ones, especially girls, are discussing strategies to counter any attempt of braid-chopping.
Amid the fear psychosis, a few debate the mystery with humour and sarcasm. “Whoever is behind the mystery, given how perfectly they have implemented the plan, they definitely deserve a Bollywood film on them. I hope Sanjay Gadhvi is following the developments in Kashmir, for the script of Dhoom 4 is being written,” said a Kashmir University student.
A physiotherapist told his patient a few days ago that a distant relative had visited his house with an invitation card. His wife, not familiar with the relative, suspected that he may be a braid-chopper. She went to the second floor and asked the guest to drop the card and leave.
The main gates of residential houses are being closed as soon as dusk sets. Professionals who travel for work return home early. “When you don’t have any idea who is behind all this and who the next target is, it is better to reach back home safely,” said Manzoor Amin, who works for a private firm in Srinagar.
Khalid Bashir, a student, said, “Another rumour that is widely being shared by womenfolk is that the ‘spray’ that braid-choppers allegedly use before chopping anyone’s braid, may cause the victim’s death after four months.”
The fear among people is such that everyone and anyone is being suspected. An old man from Bandipora, Ghulam Mohammad, who sells Kashmiri chilli powder, said, “In Ganderbal I was told that I am a potential braid-chopper, as I am carrying red chilli powder. They were about to thrash me but luckily a few elders interned.”
“It has become a nuisance for all of us,” Ghulam Mohammad said, speaking for every Kashmiri.