Braid Cutting

Braid Chopping as ‘Mass Hysteria’: ‘Why weren’t we crazy a month ago?’

Even as two months have passed without any breakthrough in braid chopping episodes in Kashmir, the theory of ‘mass hysteria’ is still being circulated and popularised in a bid to dismiss the overwhelming events. But how 100 plus victims with no medical history suddenly became hysterical is the question which everyone seems to ask in the Valley presently.

On Oct 11, in Batmaloo’s congested and volatile Sheikh Dawood Colony, the auto-drivers were sitting near their stand. The housewives were cooking, cleaning and managing the kids around. Most of the men were out for work. It was supposed to be a normal day — until screams emanated and derailed the calm of the locality.

Before anybody could even guess, a stranger had stormed the house of a little girl, Mehvish (not her real name) and threatened to slit her throat. All she could do was scream and mobilise the entire neighbourhood in a jiffy. Other than wailing women and children, some hundred boys holding sticks began running, climbing walls, damaging whatsoever came in between and ran to the spot.

Many among them climbed the residential rooftops to hunt down the elusive ‘braid chopper’. In that crowd, many simply smirked over the commotion like the education minister Altaf Bukhari, who thought: it was all in Mehvish’s head.

“In 90% of cases,” Bukhari said, “it’s more of a hysteria.” The PDP’s Amira Kadal lawmaker was only toeing his party’s and that of PDP-BJP government’s line on the whole issue.

While individually that can be the case, but the psychiatrists are of the opinion that this can’t happen and hasn’t happened on a mass level as of now.

“The victims have already crossed the number 100 and hysteria can’t translate on such a mass level,” Dr Arif Maghribi Khan, mental health expert, told FreePress Kashmir.

“It can be upto 50 or so, but not more than that.” The doctor said that his extensive field experience makes him believe that whatever is happening in Kashmir presently can’t be dismissed as ‘mass hysteria’.

“Theoretically speaking,” the doctor said, “Hysteria can happen on an individual level with symptoms like women seeing a shadow, etc. But the growing number is only suggesting that it can’t be hysteria.” Hysteria, he stressed, cannot happen in present times if it is looked upon from its origin.

Hysteria being a Greek word comes from the word ‘Hyster’ meaning ‘Uterus’, which is only present in women. “Greeks would associate it with women only,” the doctor said. Later, modern psychiatry gave Hysteria another name, ‘Anxiety Neurosis’, implying that it can happen to both men and women. But probability of its occurrence is high in women — the fact making many people certain about the “mass hysteria” theory. In Mehvish’s case, the same mindset surfaced.

But before her, Batamaloo had become an assault zone of mysterious men on Oct 1 itself when a woman in Bonpora locality was targeted. Massive protests rocked Batmaloo that Sunday after she alleged that unknown persons barged into her house and chopped off her braid.

People became vigilant. Men double-checked their places many times in a day. Even women carry sticks with them. The following dawn—Oct 2—saw a local pregnant woman busy in her home chores being attacked by a braid chopper. She was knocked off consciousness and rushed to hospital.

“I saw her,” said her neighbour. “She was bleeding. I am not able to sleep since then. She might, God forbid, lose her child. We are not safe even in our houses.” The woman didn’t wish to be quoted, fearing, “Who knows, they might read about me and target me, too.”

Perhaps, the defiant Batamaloo that was at forefront of insurgency during nineties and became a no-go zone for forces till 1993 was never so ‘alarmed’ as it’s now. The current crisis makes many believe that its ‘mastermind’ is none other than the Indian State, on task “to cut dissent of certain defiant pockets of Kashmir to size”.

Already, Kashmir is reacting, massively. The incidents are triggering protests. Locals block the roads, set things on fire and pelt stones on Jammu and Kashmir police who in turn fired tear and pepper gas shots in the air. They sit on night patrol and keep chasing and rounding off the suspicious persons.

Even then, on Oct 13, another woman became the victim of braid chopping in Batamaloo. Living in Hilal Colony, Tasleema, 32, said, “I could sense someone was in our house. I told my husband about it. He said it was nothing. Next morning, I went upstairs where I had hanged the uniform of my son. I could again feel something was there. In a jiffy, I felt like there was a rope round my neck. People tell me it was my son’s tie. That man had a black mask on. I pulled it down. His face must have the bruises. Then I tried to pull the tie down. Even my throat has the marks of my nails. Rest, I cannot recall how my hair got chopped.”

Like Tasleema, when a stranger left Mehvish in screams, many ‘I-know-all’ types dismissed her frantic appearance just an attention seeking stunt.

“But even in Attention Seeking Disorder,” said Dr. Maghribi, “not such a massive number of people can go for self harm to seek attention. Impossible!”

This is exactly what a vigilant neighbour of Mehvish is saying: “If it is about mental disorder, then how 100 plus victims with no such medical history became hysterical overnight? Why were we not crazy a month back? Why have the braids choppers targeted the areas that actively protest against oppression? Why are locals fired upon when they protest against braid chopping? Why are victims being questioned for authenticity before any examination? Why is the government not protecting societies when they don’t take a second to block the internet or impose curfews in the name of restrictions?”

Police, however, is still adamant: how can we chase and arrest a ghost?

“But the fact remains,” said a masked young protester in Batamaloo, “instead of protecting us, police is busy saving braid choppers. If they can catch militants in a jiffy why not braid choppers? We weren’t even talking about freedom this time. This was about the dignity of our sisters and mothers. And then they expect us to stay quiet.”

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