Mysterious braid-choppers

With fear gripping life and homes, the rumour of the braid-chopper is transmitted like the Dawkins meme.
Mysterious braid-choppers
File Photo

To begin with, it is crucial to set the record straight. As unfortunate and worrisome as they are the incidents of braid chopping are not exceptional to Kashmir. To make it particular to Kashmir is to miss the larger picture. Before they appeared in Kashmir, there were occasional reports of the same in Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Bihar. We heard about them in media and switched on to other more amusing channel. And saw them as some sort of a copy of the monkey-man mania which gripped some parts of India a few years ago. Then there were incidents reported from Jammu. And then here in the valley. Not only is it not geographically unique to Kashmir but it is also not so in terms of religion. In the Bhadarwa valley, incidents of braid chopping involved girls and women belonging to the Hindu community. Even a Sikh boy came under the attack of the braid choppers. Initially, the incidents were brushed away as funny and lightweight, not worth the attention. However, with the density of incidents increasing, people actually being reported in hospitals for treatment, the safety warnings are being circulated to keep away the mischief makers threatening the life and dignity of women. Should we not figure in the vast geographical expanse of this phenomenon before shaping a response? Or do we have to emphasise our geographical and religious exclusivity and go hyper in framing a response, which it seems is the case right now?

Who is doing it and why?

There is an earnest need and urge to come clear on these questions. People are really feeling scared. There is no clue whatsoever about the perpetrators. There is a hunger for answers. The anxieties are growing. The tunes of Adnan Sami are good for the rich and the powerful (and more importantly, for the safe and the protected) For the people waylaid by choppers, scared by shadows at night, frightened by the sight of the soldiers, fretting against otherwise innocuous sounds of night, his name and his music rubs salt into the wounds. When a house is burning with anxiety, any musical note only deepens the anxiety, and heightens an unnecessary, but understandable, reproach for the music and musician. The last thing they need now is the romantic escapade of the singer, what they demand is the head of the person who is making the life of people miserable. Not just that of women but also that of men; the latter may momentarily mask the fear but they are no less afraid than their female counterparts. 

With fear gripping life and homes, the rumour of the braid-chopper is transmitted like the Dawkins meme. The meme of braid-chopper has assumed a life of its own. Its intensity grows and diminishes but the basic format of a figure coming or lurking to cut the hair is around. It is as catchy as it is dangerous. It is going from one place to another, often replicated unthinkingly, and accepted unquestioningly. We have a situation now where the innocent, like Simon of Lord of the Flies, are falling victims to the rampant fear of the unknown enemy. With police looking from the fence clueless, or collaborator, if some people are to believed, merely visiting places of incidence, taking notes and recording witness, the masses are only waiting for some messenger to descend to reveal the true story. And while in that wait, sometimes the messenger, like the 70 years old man in Anantnag, becomes a scapegoat for the collective failure to trace the perpetrator.

There is a line that most of these incidents are happening close to the army camps. The understanding being that the latter is hand in glove with the perpetrators. However, that is not perhaps entirely true. While some incidents were reported from close to the army installations but many were far away from them. The army is an easy target because of innumerable reasons, not to mention their unlimited capacity to shield the accused of various hues. However, in this case, there is not enough substantiation, and as said before, both geographically and denomination-wise the phenomenon is too wide to pin the blame on uniform. Then there is the argument that these scare tactics make it easy for the security apparatus to trace the insurgents as people close the doors to any stranger, fearing that the "intruder" might be a braid-chopper. Which leaves the insurgents out for the security apparatus to come into action, and make an easy work of them. Finally, the phenomenon gives a boost to the popularity index of the politicians for whom public was far and incommunicado after the agitation of 2016. The panic caused by hair cutting has provided them with an excuse to build bridges with people, and lend some credence to their claim of being representatives of people.

One Big Goal

There may be a number of incidents and as many reasons for its cause but there appears to be one universal objective. That is to cause fear. What can people do against that until some breakthrough, or a miracle, or winter snowfall relieves us of the menace? There is no magical pill against fear, which can remove its effects. And the old saying is fear has big eyes, and they get bigger unless controlled by an irreplaceable will power to defeat its machinations, which are plenty and multi-dimensional. For the moment what people can do is not give in to the preferred outcome of the intention of the braid chopper, which is to instil fear. This psy-op will meet a dead end if there is a counter psy-op in which people refuse to bend their daily life because of the widespread fear. A stoic refusal to submit to fear is the best antidote in the absence of an administration which is seen to be on the side of people.

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