Braid-chopping: J&K in grip of mass hysteria?

A spate of reported braid-chopping incidents in the last few weeks in Jammu & Kashmir has fuelled a sense of insecurity, created panic and given rise to widespread protests and untoward incidents in the state. The incidents are shrouded in mystery, with some women claiming that they were attacked on the streets or in other places, sprayed with chemicals that made them unconscious, and their braids cut off, their ornaments taken away sometimes. Over 100 such cases have been reported but nobody has yet been caught. Similar incidents were reported from Delhi, UP and Rajasthan some months ago. In J&K, they were first reported in Jammu, then in South Kashmir, and now in Srinagar. Strangely, they stop in one area when cases are reported in another region. They have spread like wildfire and fed into the hostile and insecure narrative that reigns in Kashmir.

The phenomenon has been described as a case of mass hysteria resulting from social stress and anxiety, which causes some individuals to make attempts to attract attention. The fact that no attacker has yet been caught in Kashmir or in other places strengthens this hypothesis. Such cases of strange and inexplicable individual behaviour, driven by collective moods, have been found in many other places and situations within the country and outside. A combination of fear, insecurity, loss of faith in authority, superstitions and other factors are known to give rise to such irrational behaviour. Life in conflict-ridden Kashmir is stressful and it is claimed that the tensions and anxieties are finding release in fanciful incidents and inventions – creations of the mind, especially in vulnerable sections such as women, who all report a common pattern in the experience.

If the situation is indeed a construction of the mind, then the government has failed to explain it properly and convince the people about it. The state police isclueless, but has formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and announced rewards for anyone who can help solve the cases. Internet services have been suspended and vigilante groups are roaming the streets, looking for the culprits. The public, the political opposition and the Kashmiri separatists have criticised the government and staged protests against its failure. Mobs have attacked many people, suspecting they are the braid-choppers. An elderly person was killed and some foreign tourists were attacked. There are charges that security personnel are the culprits. All such issues assume political dimensions in Kashmir. The situation in the state is already bad. It is becoming worse with archetypal fears and unknown threats stalking people and places.
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