SRINAGAR: A wave of brutal, deadly panic swept through Kashmir in the months of September and October last year after more than 100 women complained of falling prey to attackers who had chopped off their hair.

Kashmir, known as a region of unrest, saw an unusual 2017 as a panic swept through the valley as incidents of “braid chopping” spread. A sort of fear psychosis spread across the valley, culminating in incidents such as when mob to set a mentally challenged man from Sopore on fire. Another time, the crowd even attempted to drown a young person in the Dal Lake. An old man even died after some boys threw a stone at him, mistaking him for a braid chopper.

From September onward, the Valley came to be dominated by the scare, with braid chopping taking a political turn as pressure grew on the government to take action and provide an explanation for the bizarre turn of events. Protests broke out, with the Hurriyat and other groups all pointing a finger at the government and accusing it of spread fear in the valley.

A few months on, the paranoia that had swept across the state -- where women were literally terrified to leave their house -- seems to have settled. Braidchopping, which had dominated the media, has quickly disappeared from the headlines.

The Citizen talked to one of the victims, Haleema Nadaaf, 70, who hails from the New Colony Lal Bazar area of Srinagar. She said, “I left my room to go to washroom at the time of Maghrib prayers to make wuddhu when someone grabbed my neck from the back with a sharp wire. I was terrified but I could manage to call my son who came and saw me lying wet on the washroom floor. He took me in his arms while I was in a semi conscious state and dropped me on the bed in the living room”.

“Nobody knew what had happened until my son pulled my duppata over my head; that’s when he shouted that my hair is cut and took the braid and the rubber band in his hand. Everybody in the family was shocked and started crying,” she added.

Nadaaf is on a treatment where doctors are trying to get her hair to grow back with the help of medication and hair cosmetics. The family registered an FIR in the Police Station Lal Bazar Srinagar soon after the incident. The incident took place in September last year.

“The doctor cried on seeing me for the first time because I had no hair on my head”, Nadaaf said, fighting back her tears.

On asking how the police is taking an action over this incident, Nadaaf’s son replied, “We are still following our complaint and go to the police station every time they call us. They only say karwai chaalu hai (the investigation is on) while whispering sab chor hain (everybody is a liar here)”.

Nadaaf said, “the police usually calls me to the station and asks the same questions every time I go there. I don’t understand this. Now I have stopped going there but my son follows it though”.

A local police official who wished not to be named told The Citizen, “I did not find any logic in these cases. People are behaving in a very unusual way and it may be because they think they are alienated”.

“We are investigating the matter and there is some basis of the investigation that we have to follow but most of the cases have no basis, so there is no way the investigation will work out”, he added.

In the Bota Shah Mohalla of Lal Bazaar area, another woman -- Subaya Saleem -- says she is a victim of braid chopping. Saleem reportedly became victim twice just within a gap of single day.

Saleem was cleaning the lawn in her house at 10 in the morning when the first attack happened.

“We rushed out to see what had happened and within no time the attacker found his way above the wall to escape. He was a masked man wearing high boots,” Saleem’s father in law said.

“The masked man even tried to take out my bangle but he couldn’t do it and escaped when my family came out,” Saleem said.

The second attack happened when she went to her room upstairs where a masked man hiding behind a curtain caught hold of her immediately, chopped her hair off again and jumped out of the window from the second floor.

“The moment we found this had happened, the braid chopper managed to escape,” Saleem’s sister in law said.

Saleem registered an FIR of the second incident in the Police station Lal Bazar Srinagar. The family said that the police officials visited them many times but they couldn’t reach any conclusion.

Saleem’s mother in law said, “It took us almost one lakh rupees for repairing our lawn railings; we also inserted some cameras at the entrance points and have locked up all the doors to our house except the one on the back. We have become enough cautious now because it literally shocked us”.

There have been 37 braid chopping cases registered from the Srinagar district alone. Among them, 26 were non-admitted and 10 are still under investigation. One case under FIR No. 189/2017 of Police Station Saddar was solved. The accused was arrested; investigation completed and charge sheet was produced in the court of law against the accused.

From North Kashmir’s Kupwara town in Chowkibal area, one incident took place on October 17 at 8:30 in the morning when the Saima Nabi, 29 had come back to her room which is in the second story, after eating breakfast.

Nabi who was sprayed and grabbed by a man who chopped her hair off said, “I couldn’t see the man because I fell unconscious but some neighbors saw him jumping from my room and they soon rushed to catch him while I was hospitalized. I heard it later that the army had come to the place and started beating people which made the accused man’s escape easier”.

“My family also registered an FIR in the nearby police station but the police officials hardly seem serious about the case”, she added.

The Citizen talked to DGP S.P. Vaid who said there were almost 300 to 400 cases of braid chopping incidents reported in the valley.

“We tried our best to investigate but we couldn’t trace anything. This was some something psychological or without much concrete proof,” he added.