Braid thieves have cut the hair of over 100 women in India-controlled Kashmir, entering their houses at night and chopping off their long braids while they sleep. The frequency of the crime and its disturbing nature has sent a panic throughout the community that is yet to be quelled.
The attacks happen mostly to women while they’re sleeping, though women in other circumstances have also reported having their hair chopped off and stolen during the day.
Tasleema Bilal, a 40-year-old woman, had her hair cut in her own home. She tried to remove the mask of the man who assailed her, but she said, “He was very strong, and like a commando almost snapped my neck.”
Bilal’s 16-year-old niece had her braid stolen just a few days earlier. She was knocked out with a brick and woke up later in the hospital with her hair gone.
Despite the obvious connection between the different instances of the same crime, the police and state alleged that the women who reported the crimes were suffering from hallucinations.
The braid-snatchers didn’t begin their efforts in Kashmir, as reports of their thieving first emerged from other areas across northern India in July. However, the thieves’ efforts in Kashmir spurred suspicions that those who reported the crime were victims of the psychological trauma plaguing the area.
It wasn’t until the Women’s Commission, a government-run organization, pushed back against their comments that the state and police force began to believe the women’s testimonies.
It’s unclear how long the police refused to act against the criminals because Kashmir’s men tend to police their own communities. Men take to the street, patrolling in the nighttime with knives, cricket bats, and iron rods. They hope to catch the criminals while they’re in the act and they hope to relieve some of the panic their community is facing.
It’s those patrolling, however, who have been finding themselves in trouble with the law. Men have beaten suspects they have later found to be innocent, even using a brick to kill a 70-year-old man they suspected.
The vigilantes have also been fighting with the police – over two dozen people having been arrested because of rumor-spreading and violence.
Bilal, the woman who was assaulted in her home, expresses the people’s desire to uncover the identity of the assailants and determine if their suspicions toward their government are justified.
“We want to know who the culprit is: police, army, or civilians?” she said.
General Muneer Ahmed Khan, the Police Inspector, noted that the state offered $9,000 for clues leading to the arrest of any culprits, reiterating that it would be ludicrous to think the Indian authorities had any part in the crimes.
Separatist leaders are still angry at the police department’s initial reactions, however, claiming that the attacks come as a method of scaring the population in Kashmir who oppose Indian rule.
It’s no surprise why people still seem to hold out on trusting their government. When the first attacks were reported in July, the state ordered psychiatrists to evaluate the mental states of those who reported the crime to determine their psychological stability.
It seems as if all of Kashmir will continue to be affected until the crime’s perpetrators are found and stopped.
“Our business has shrunk to 10 percent of what we had before this braid-chopping started,” said cafe owner Syed Mukhtar.
For the women of Kashmir, It has become too dangerous to leave one’s home at night. Hopefully, this mass hysteria stops and women can finally feel safe in their own homes once again.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter