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.”


North Korean missile test violated UN resolution, says Bolton

Updated 17 min 18 sec ago
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North Korean missile test violated UN resolution, says Bolton

  • Trump has left “door open” for North Korea’s Kim
  • Washington has “deep and serious” intelligence on Iran threat

TOKYO: US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Saturday North Korea’s recent missile launches violated a UN Security Council resolution and urged leader Kim Jong Un to return to denuclearization talks.
It was the first time a senior US official has described the tests as a violation of UN resolutions aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and came ahead of a four-day visit to Japan by US President Donald Trump who arrives later in the day.
“The UN resolution prohibits the launch of any ballistic missiles,” Bolton said at a press roundtable. North Korea’s test firings included short range ballistic missiles and so there was “no doubt” it was a violation, he added.
Earlier this month, Kim Jong Un oversaw the first flight of a previously untested weapon — a relatively small, fast missile experts believe will be easier to hide, launch and maneuver in flight.
Bolton said that the United States was still open to talks with Kim’s regime but that it had not changed its position from the one outlined at the last summit between the United States and North Korea in Hanoi.
“Trump has held the door open for Kim, the next step is for Kim to walk through it,” he said.
Bolton also urged Kim to agree to a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which he said could help restart dialogue on North Korea’s weapons programs.
An Abe Kim summit “could be substantive assistance to that,” he said.
Trump, who will play golf with Abe on Sunday before watching Sumo wrestling, is expected to discuss topics ranging from North Korea to China and two-way trade when they sit down for a summit on Monday.
The two leaders will also discuss rising tensions with Iran, Bolton said. Abe is considering a visit to Iran as early as mid-June, public broadcaster NHK said on Friday, the first such trip in four decades.
Washington has said it will stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil and has designated Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
The United State is also deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to what the Trump administration described as troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran.
Bolton, who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish US policy on Iran, described recent attacks on tankers off the United Arab Emirates and a pipeline pumping station in Saudi Arabia, as well as a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone in Iraq, as “manifestations of concern.”
The United States has “deep and serious” intelligence on the threat posed by Iran, said Bolton, who declined to provide details.