Mystery ‘braid-chopping’ cases add panic to trauma in Kashmir

A relative shows the chopped hair ‘braid chopping’ victim hair in the Batamaloo area of Srinagar. The details of the alleged attacks are often mysterious and difficult to verify, while witnesses are hard to find.(AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Mystery ‘braid-chopping’ cases add panic to trauma in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India: A wave of brutal, deadly panic has swept Indian-administered Kashmir after more than 100 women said they were victims of attackers who chopped off their hair.
Despite suggestions the cases may have been fabricated or fueled by hysteria, the consequences have been all too real.
One 70-year-old man has been killed by vigilantes since the alleged incidents started a month ago, and there are near-daily reports of groups attacking suspected so-called “braid-choppers.”
Authorities have avoided confirming or denying the accounts of women from across the Himalayan region, which bears deep mental scars from a decades-old uprising against Indian rule.
Groups armed with iron rods and knives patrol the capital Srinagar and other towns after dark looking for suspects.
Five people were wounded Wednesday when Indian soldiers opened fire on a stone-throwing crowd who thought troops were protecting a braid-chopper.
On Friday, police said they rescued a “mentally challenged” man accused by a mob that was trying to set him ablaze and run him over with a tractor. At least a dozen police and soldiers have been beaten up.
Police initially said the hair-chopping was self-inflicted. Now they are offering a 600,000 rupee ($9,250) reward for information leading to the capture of suspects, but they also want the victims to take lie-detector tests.
In Muslim-majority Kashmir most women have long hair kept under a scarf when in public.
The details of the alleged attacks are often mysterious and difficult to verify, while witnesses are hard to find.
Tasleema told how she was going to fetch vegetables in storage when she was attacked.
Her husband, Mohammad Rauf Wani, heard a scream and found his wife unconscious on the floor with six inches of her hair spread out next to her.
“I don’t understand how it happened,” Wani said, holding his wife’s severed braid.
“Just as I turned after opening the door someone tried to strangle me from behind. I saw his face covered by a black mask, I saw his eyes. Then I don’t know what happened,” Tasleema said.
Most of the women were alone and have told relatives they suspect a spray was used to knock them unconscious before their braids were cut. Most were under 18 and come from poor families, according to police.
In a region where any incident can become highly politicized, the vigilantes have seized on the void created by the lack of an official explanation or the arrest of suspects.
Videos of angry relatives accusing police and soldiers while brandishing cut braids have been widely shared on social media.
Doctors at Kashmir’s only psychiatric hospital said they have not been called in to study the cases.
“Some people are making it out as mass hysteria, but in my experience, given the manner in which it is happening I don’t think this is so,” said Mohammad Maqbool Dar, head of psychiatry at Srinagar’s government medical college.
He said it was possible there were “odd cases” of hysteria.
Some separatist leaders and residents have accused “government agents” of staging the attacks to spread fear and divert attention from the campaign for an independent Kashmir or merger with Pakistan.
Senior police worry that the hair-chopping allegations could cause wider unrest in the region, which is suffering deep trauma from the separatist insurgency and the Indian counter-insurgency campaign that have left tens of thousands dead.
According to a 2015 study by the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) group, about 1.8 million adults — 45 percent of Kashmir’s adult population, and mostly women — suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.
Outside Tasleema’s house, scores of residents protested, shouting anti-government and anti-police slogans after news spread of her braid-chopping.
Some residents accuse police of staging hair-chopping as psychological operations — or “psy-ops” — to prevent political protests.
“We have so much human intelligence that I don’t need any psy-ops,” Kashmir’s inspector general of police, Munir Ahmed Khan, said.
Similar braid-cutting assaults were reported in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and around New Delhi in July. Authorities there treated the incidents as crimes but brought in psychiatrists as well to investigate.
“Here the situation is different,” police chief Khan said. “There are forces who will exploit it (braid-chopping) to the hilt. Pakistan will use this situation, that is my worry,” Khan said.
The under-pressure Kashmir government says only that the “motives behind these attacks” are being investigated.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said in recent Twitter comments that braid-chopping was an attempt “to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the state.”


China expects Taiwan’s last Africa ally will switch to Beijing soon

Updated 16 min 19 sec ago
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China expects Taiwan’s last Africa ally will switch to Beijing soon

  • Taiwan, which China claims as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations, now has formal ties with only 17 countries
  • China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since President Tsai Ing-wen’s election

BEIJING/TAIPEI: China expects self-ruled Taiwan’s last diplomatic ally in Africa, the Kingdom of eSwatini, will switch to Beijing soon, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday, a day after China won over the third Taipei ally in a year.
Taiwan, which China claims as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations, now has formal ties with only 17 countries, many of them small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who has vowed not to bow to Chinese pressure, came under opposition criticism on Wednesday amid calls for a more friendlier policy toward Beijing.
Taiwan vowed on Tuesday to fight China’s “increasingly out of control” behavior after Taipei lost another ally to Beijing when El Salvador became the third country to switch allegiances to China this year.
Ahead of next month’s summit between China and African leaders in Beijing, China has been upping the pressure on Taiwan’s last remaining ally on the continent, eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to come over to China’s side, diplomatic sources say.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing about the summit, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong that eSwatini did not have relations with China “for reasons that everyone knows.”
“We look forward to and hope that all African nations, with none left behind, can take part in positive China-Africa cooperation, and become a member of the largest family get together,” Chen said.
“I believe that this is not just the pursuit of China, it is also a widespread shared expectation of African nations. I believe that this target can in the not too distant future be realized,” he added, without elaborating.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has vowed not to bow to Chinese pressure, Taipei has accused Beijing of offering generous aid and loan packages to lure its allies across, charges China denies.
The island’s biggest opposition group, the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), urged for a “better alternative” following what it described as “enormous mistakes” in Tsai’s cross-strait policy.
“The ruling party has the responsibility to think of a better cross-strait policy ...The relations with China have turned stagnant and were frozen,” KMT’s spokesman Mong-kai Hung said.
Yu-fang Lin, a KMT lawmaker who leads the diplomacy and defense committee in the Taiwan parliament, urged Tsai to recognize the “one China” principle, an agreement reached between Beijing and then-ruling KMT in 1992, under which both agreed there is only one China, with each having their own interpretation of what that means.
“She should bravely tell her supporters they need a friendlier policy to China, this way there would be more support for her,” Lin said.
China’s hostility to Taiwan has grown since Tsai’s election as Beijing fears she wishes to push for the island’s formal independence, a red line for China. She says she wants to maintain the status quo but will defend Taiwan’s democracy.
State-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times said in a Wednesday editorial that China did not have to “pay a fortune to steal Taiwan’s ‘allies’.”
“Many of the island’s ‘allies’ have a larger trade volume with China than with Taiwan. Their establishment of diplomatic ties with the Chinese mainland is an irresistible trend. It is only a matter of time before Taiwan has zero ‘allies.’”