Braid Chopping: ‘We’ll get through this, too, stronger than they think’

FPK Photo/Masrat Jan

How does it feel like a Kashmiri woman when relentless braid-chopping episodes are only escalating a sense of scare? Here, the writer narrates her daily agony and hope at the end of the dark tunnel.

As I’m writing this, it’s 11:05 pm in my gassed neighbourhood, leaving throats choked and eyes burnt. Amid the street shrill, we’re coughing relentlessly.

I think it’s them, says my mother. We don’t have to ask what she means by ‘them’. We know what she means. Each and every Kashmiri living in Kashmir in these times know what she means.

We’ve checked and rechecked the locks of all the doors and windows in my house. We scan the street to give away any hint of any figure lurking in the shadows. There’s none.

With no males present with us in our house, we call our neighbours for assurance.

They’re alert and coughing, too. They’re sleeping with an axe by their bedside; we’re sleeping with a cricket bat.

As I’m writing this, with pepper-gas choked throat and burning eyes, I’m waiting for them to come and cut my beautiful, black hair that I’m so proud of. Cut it all, shred it into an unrecognisable piece of mess, and be done with it so that I can go back to my curfewed, blood-soaked, barbed life but nevertheless a life sans this constant apprehension of spray, scissors and my braid in my hands.

I’ve always been proud of the strength of Kashmiri mothers. From the savage era of 90s to the present day bloodbath, from the endless wait for their husbands to burying the blood stained, still bodies of their young sons, they’ve braved it all. Then how can a severed braid of their daughters possibly scare and humiliate them?

My mother, who didn’t even call me once when I went out of the country, alone, for the first time, now shouts my name from the stairs of our home every other minute when I’m upstairs in my room.

No mother, they aren’t in my room yet, I shot back.

A 7-year-old girl with purple butterflies in her dark hair runs up to me as I’m walking towards the bus stop. Her out-of-breath mother is close behind.

As they approach me, they say, ‘Let’s walk together, we’re scared.’

I hold her hand and ask her about school, friends and everything happy and shiny, like two ordinary strangers in ordinary circumstances.

When we part, her mother puts her hands in the air and says, ‘May Allah protect you and all the daughters of Kashmir!’

May Allah protect you and all the daughters of Kashmir!

Since the braid-chopping incidents began, I’ve heard this phrase, countless times. Women are coming out together, in empathy and understanding. ‘Be careful darling,’ says the woman I’ve never seen before.

We don’t just have to fight the masked demons; we’ve to fight the unmasked ones, too. We don’t just have to fight the braid-choppers; we’ve to fight our own, too.

I was rushing towards my home, past Maghrib time. It was a dark and a lonely alley. I see four young Kashmiri boys walking towards me.

Scared of what could be lurking in the shadows, I thank Allah for the presence of these boys.

Until they surround me.

‘Who has the spray?’ asks one guy.
‘I do. Who has the scissors?’ says another.
‘Catch hold of her,’ says another.

Four harmless boys pulling a poor stunt, it could have been a good laugh at any time. But not now, not this time.

Now, we look behind more than we look ahead. We touch our hair every now and then to make sure it’s still there. We look with suspicion at every person we pass on the street. We never needed our brothers to accompany us anywhere. But now we do. We return home while the sun is still out. And if because of some unavoidable reason, we’re out after dark, it’s with a stone in our hands.

Because ‘Darling be careful’ they say.

An elderly man passes me and my friend on the street. He stops us and stares for a moment and then points to my friend and says, ‘Cover your head or they will come for you!’

Aren’t they coming for everyone with hair? Is a cloth on our head supposed to protect us? If it did, you wouldn’t find anyone without it.

As I cough and fight the irritation in my throat in my pepper gas infused neighbourhood with a cricket bat by my side, I’m well aware that the morning will come with the news of a new braid-chopping incident of a clueless girl sleeping peacefully tonight.

I don’t know what kind of people are doing this and what evil design they plan to accomplish through this, but what I know for sure is that we’ll get through this, too, stronger than they think, braver than they assume.

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