Even as chief minister Mehbooba Mufti broke her silence after 100 plus braid-chopping incidents that shocked the valley, her government’s ‘mass hysteria’ theory is falling flat on the ground. While the systematic attacks are being termed as a ‘devilish act to divert people’s attention from the freedom movement’ by the resistance leadership, many see a barking, bygone pattern in the relentless braid-chopping episodes.
In Kashmir’s war history, perhaps the 1965 remains the year of striking statecraft — otherwise the hallmark of every war enterprise. Apart from the well-oiled pamphlet propaganda and war of radio waves, it was the battle between Pakistan’s Gibraltar army and their faceless nemesis in the form of stalking ghosts.
Those ‘ghosts’ used to grab people, scratch them and leave them freaked out. After creating a sense of fear, they would control the Nakal-u-Harkat—or, the movement of the so-called “infiltrators”, as Delhi described the secretive Pak army. Those ‘ghosts’ were let loose over the restive population during night to restrict the movement of the Mujahedeen.
“What was happening then was exhibitionism of an illegal occupation,” says Zareef A. Zareef, a poet-historian, then watching the ‘war’ jubilation in Srinagar as a peppy youngster. “When you held a territory against wishes of its people, only such actions save a day for the occupier.”
Perhaps frightening the dissent population in a hostile territory was the only instrument available to Indian armed forces to counter the Green army, Zareef says.
But the emergence of ghosts at that historic juncture made it clear that some wars are indeed being played dirty.
Then on close heels of Deaein or ghosts, Kashmir’s city and countryside saw coming of the Nar Czoor or fire thieves. They used to set paddy and property on fire to instil fear in people.
“They were followed by Sangbaazi (stone pelting),” Zareef says. That pack of disguised force used to throw stones at residential homes to stir up scare.
“This was a clear divergent technique used by the occupational forces against the freedom demanding populace of Kashmir,” the poet known for his dissent poetry says.
After the defiant Batamaloo went up in flames that year, the demons disappeared, only to surface 52 years later in the form of braid choppers, Zareef says. “Only the form has changed,” he says, “the motive has remained the same.”
As an ardent observer and record-keeper of Kashmir and the camouflaged combat methods used to tackle it, Zareef sees the braid-chopping episodes as the dissent-dousing tactics at a time when the sentiment of Azadi has come with full force, again.
“It first happened in South Kashmir where the war-cry of Azadi is resounding, despite hounding,” Zareef says. Something had become a dogged norm in that part of Kashmir, which forced the authorities to tackle it on war-footing, he says.
Whenever an insurgent is killed in South, people offer his multiple funeral prayers. Every woman, man and child comes out on streets to show their resentment towards the “occupation” and love for the “martyrs”.
It was in this defiant backdrop that the braid-choppers first struck and made farce of Mehbooba Mufti’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao‘ slogans.
“To control this sentiment,” Zareef says, “they have started this shameful act of braid cutting. This is worse than rape!”
Somebody like Mohammad Sayeed Malik, a veteran journalist, says it can be anybody’s game, but sees method in this madness.
“Somebody’s doing it with a purpose to create panic, difference, disharmony and suspense in the society,” Malik says. “Some unseen force is implementing this idea, a very dangerous idea.”
As a journalist, Malik is surprised over the state’s inability to track and crack the over two-month-old crisis freaking out the female folks and paralyzing the life cycle in Kashmir.
In his over half a century old journalism career, the veteran has seen many such attempts being implemented to cut size the Vale’s dissent. “Till these criminals remain faceless,” he says, “the local government will have to face the wrath of the people.”
Malik’s contemporary from the political class—known for his tongue-in-cheeks remarks—is absolutely certain about the ‘brain’ behind the brouhaha.
“Two things have come up in reports,” says NC veteran Mustafa Kamal. “When people caught one recently, the nearby army camp fired in the air. Then those ‘braid choppers’ went inside the camp. So what else is there to think or say? It’s very simple that agencies of the central government are involved.”
In Srinagar, along with NC, the Congress headquarters frequented by the oldies are tad assured who’s is playing what game in Kashmir at the moment.
Among them, Mohammad Sultan Mandoo turns poetic over the issue, apparently to avert stirring up a hornet’s nest unlike NC’s Kamal.
“Kuch To Hai Jiski Pardadari Hai (Something is being kept under the covers),” says a smiling senior congressman. “This is a big mischief. And it’s not even an isolated crime. So many incidents have taken place. Their modus operandi is also in front of everyone. We’ve such a huge police force consisted of brilliant officers, so many intelligence wings. Still, they’re unable to nab these criminals.”
The victims will have to bear this trauma for a long time, he says. “Even their children and grandchildren will be told: ‘Oh, look! He’s from the family of the woman whose braid was chopped!’ ” Mandoo intends no pun while saying this!
But the congressman who has rubbed shoulders with political giants of his times terms Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti—head of the unified command—as a confused chief.
“Why isn’t she issuing orders? Even IGP Munir Khan, who is such a veteran officer, known for his incisive policing, is helpless. Both the retired and serving police officers are telling me that there’s something rotten.”
Till that “rotten” will surface, the whole population is feared to turn fretful. Already to nab the prowlers, the vigilantes are sitting on night patrol — running here and there after the suspicious shadows. The very images remind one of the terror and fear that swept the Valley after kids were being reportedly kidnapped by unknown persons in Kashmir on the cusp of insurgency.
Then as rebellion went rampant, the ghosts appeared and now, the braid choppers. But in all this, Kashmiris survived, only to erupt with new cycle of rage in different time and same space.