NEW DELHI: In a border state where the local population is outnumbered by the Army, police, paramilitary and intelligence personnel deployed, the apparent inability of the authorities to identify and apprehend braid choppers comes as a major surprise. And raises serious questions that demand answers.

Read a report in Greater Kashmir: “Fresh braid cutting incidents on Tuesday led to protests, clashes and shutdown in several parts of Kashmir, even as four territorial army men were beaten up by locals in Kupwara and Kangan, reports and witnesses said.

Massive clashes erupted between protesters and government forces at Reddi Chowkibal and Kralpora areas of Kupwara district on Tuesday after braid of a woman was cut.

The incident occurred at around 8.30 a.m. “Someone sprayed some substance which left me unconscious,” said the victim.

The mother of the victim while showing braid of her daughter said she (the victim) was lying unconscious with her braid cut when she spotted her in the room.

“As infant baby of my daughter screamed I called her but she didn’t reply. I rushed to her room and found her lying in semi unconscious state with her braid cut,” said the mother of victim.

Soon after the incident locals caught hold of a territorial army man, accusing him to be the braid-chopper. The soldier was severely thrashed by the locals.”

This is a daily phenomenon. Hundreds of such incidents have been recorded. In every single instance across the Valley, the victims have no idea of what happened. The family is terrified, the neighbours fearful and angry, and the female victim moving speedily from tension that is part of her life, into deep depression in any number of cases. Society is being torn apart by suspicion, with an elderly man being killed, as the Kashmiris in the vicinity of the braid chopping incident turn on anyone they see as suspicious and alien.

Whenever and wherever such an incident takes place the local Kashmiris experience the following: fear, terror, heightened suspicions, anger, depression and deep insecurity. In the absence of any kind of action by the authorities, the Kashmiris are coming out in large numbers to protest with the attention having been diverted from the larger political issues against the state and central governments, to the ghosts who have the ability to enter any home and attack women---from the old to the young---with no one having a clue as to what has happened. No eyewitnesses, no records, just ‘incidents’ that are causing almost the same level of terror as the gun.

What is stupefying for any journalist conversant with Kashmir, is the complete inability of the forces entrusted with law and order---that in the context of the Valley extends far beyond the state police---to nab these persons striking terror, and making the situation even more unstable. It is difficult to believe that these persons can strike at will, enter homes, and get away in Kashmir where even the movements of birds and leaves is tracked. Intelligence agencies that can flush out militants from thin air, have “no idea” about these persons who have the locals chasing shadows, and each other, at any time they so wish.

Kashmir is not like any other state in India. New Delhi---regardless of the political complexion of governments---has always looked at the Valley with suspicion that often extends into hostility. At best the relationship between Delhi and Srinagar is of suspicion without hostility, with central governments relying extensively on their intelligence agencies to keep the Valley in order.

The inability thus, to identify and track down these braid chopping ghosts is inexplicable. And only one explanation offers itself to the rational mind, that these persons have official sanction that keeps them above and outside the law. The other explanation is of course, of ‘ghosts’ who flit from house to house, area to area, eluding the men with the guns, and the shadows that lurk behind every bush keeping a close watch on the Kashmiris.

And of course there is a third explanation that was hinted at initially, but now is not really heard of as the ghosts have over extended themselves. That the Kashmiri women are hysterical and braid chopping is a figment of their fertile imaginations. But this seems to have been scotched by the wide spread of such incidents, as now locals are not all willing to believe that all their women are prone to hysteria. Besides, if this was the case one would expect the authorities to prove it so, and thereby bring the braid chopping inspired terror to an end. This too has not happened with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s only contribution being, “braid chopping incidents are attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the state”. Who is responsible? No answer.

So if these are not ghosts, and not of the imagination of hysterical Kashmiri women, then who are these persons, operating with such ease and backed clearly by a professional support system? Psychological war is part of conflict, and often with results more devastating than the use of weapons. And safer for the perpetrators as they remain invisible while the people are hit with invisible bullets as it were, and suffer as much if not more.

One had seen this in the war between Israel and the Palestinians. One instance of this was during a declared, negotiated ceasefire, Israeli airplanes would break the sound barriers at supersonic speed in the early hours of the morning when sleep was deep. Every single time Palestinians in Beirut screamed and ran for cover, with children howling, and women trembling for hours after. The relief that it was not an air attack did not settle the stretched nerves, and the well crafted psychological military offensive took a heavy toll.

The point being made thus, is that psychological warfare is an accepted form of a military offensive and used by governments the world over. Braid chopping might be the handiwork of non-state actors but then surely the mighty state operating in Kashmir would have been able to detect, identify and apprehend these culprits? Instead the Kashmiris are running around like headless chickens, looking for targets, in which men in uniform have also been attacked as have tourists. In fact the Kashmiris themselves have not been able to apprehend these intruders into their homes that can only be if these persons are ghosts, or if they are well trained at what they do.

In the process, the attention has shifted from azadi and pellet guns and state excesses and funerals of militants and encounters to braid chopping that has the cover of a social ‘evil’. The separatists insist this is the handiwork of the ‘agencies’ but their voices are barely heard in the cacophony of confusion and chaos. Besides their credibility is at a low ebb and they speak without reason often.

So who are these braid choppers? Without proof we remain in the realm of hysterical women themselves, miscreants, ghosts, agencies? And that serves the purpose better than bullets fired from visible hands.