Braid-chopping an unusual challenge for Kashmir’s top cop

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Views from Srinagar
Majid Hyderi

AS a journalist and critic of government, one may criticize policing in trouble-torn Kashmir on numerous fronts.
But for one thing where there doesn’t seem to be scope for any disagreement is that incumbent Inspector General of Police, Kashmir, Sardar Munir Ahmed Khan has earned an undisputed track record of being strictly-intolerant towards crime against women.
Since the day of having joined police services way back in 1980s, Khan, who enjoys the sobriquet of ‘Tiger’ among his colleagues, is known for the kind of policing that prioritizes safety and security of the female-folk.
Be it eve-teasing or other sexual assault on women, Khan has been ruthless towards the offenders. Given his intolerance towards the ‘Road-Romeos’ and their likes, there’s a popular anecdote in the khaki ranks that even Khan’s subordinate cops think twice before looking towards a woman than to talk of undue attempt of interaction.
Even in the 1990s and the start of new millennium, when the police would mainly concentrate on counterinsurgency operations, Khan was equally sensitive towards issues of crime against women. Such miscreants would often instantly land behind the bars.
In fact it was during his tenure as the then Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar that the infamous sex-racket of 2005 was busted in the summer capital.
But then, there has come a new element in the story. At a time when Khan is being seen as government’s “best bet” in combating militancy and equally ensuring calm in Kashmir, something fundamental to his style of policing is being brazenly challenged by rising incidents of braid-chopping.
Braid-chopping was something unheard of in Kashmir. But within a month, the crime has taken the Valley by shock. Amid genuine fears and some pinch of hysteria, it’s going viral with each passing moment.
The first braid-chopping incident was reported in the first week of September from Kokernag area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. The second incident was reported on September 14 from adjoining Kulgam.
And then as if the crime was travelling by road, that it spilled over to adjoining Tral in Pulwama, and Shopian districts.
Subsequently, it reached the summer capital of Srinagar literally via Nowgam highway where people held protests when some braid-cutters were spotted.
From Nowgam, the crime took a left on the highway to reach Batamaloo, where a woman fell victim to the mysterious scissors on October 1. And, having taken the same highway, the crime has sneaked into Baramulla district as well. Though Baramulla police claims to have arrested a jilted lover on charges of braid chopping, this could be an exceptional case because one jilted lover won’t be stalking every next woman in Jammu and Kashmir.
Braid-chopping is a new fear-factor. But being a conflict-zone, Kashmir has been witness to numerous such conspiracies like the ‘Dayn’ episode of mid 90s when six-feet tall “ghosts” resembling Ikhwanis would scare the people in the night hours.
The conspiracies in Kashmir haven’t been only about fear alone. It has equally been about “spirituality”. On the “spiritual-front” there was a time when discovering hair strands from religious books would be seen as a good omen, with people saying it was a sign that “azadi is approaching fast.”
There was also a time when natural growth of yeast from a breadcrumb in water container, taking shape of round roti, was seen as another “positive sign of immediate solution to Kashmir issue.” And people would eat the “blessed roti”, which was botanically a fungal strain, misfit for human consumption.
Well that was 1990s. As of now Kashmir is bearing the braid-trouble. But then is Kashmir alone to bear it. Well, as per reports, around 1,000 braid chopping incidents have been reported from across the country, mainly in north India.
Between July and August, at least 55 women across five north Indian states woke up to find their braids mysteriously cut off.
After the neighboring states, it was the turn of Jammu and Kashmir. The first braid-chopping incident in J&K was reported from Jammu province in September.
As per police records at least 30 such incidents have been reported from the region till now. A similar number of cases have been reported from Kashmir. But given the sensitivity of the people towards such incidents in a conflict- zone, Kashmir will continue be a different a challenge for the government.
While the modus-operandi suggests that the braid chopping is the handy-work of some organized crime syndicate, active across north India, the bigger question is how come this gang sneaked into the trouble-torn region of Kashmir, largely desirous of alienation from the mainland. Many look at braid-chopping through prism of K-issue. Who are the “aliens” behind the braid-chopping? Who all could be harboring them in the restive Valley? And who is attracting them towards the crime?
Amid numerous questions and a tricky situation, unnerved people often take to streets while the state government says it’s equally concerned.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police have doubled the reward to Rs 6 lakh for any information leading to the nabbing of people involved in braid-cutting incidents. This was done after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired a meeting of senior civil and police officers in this regard.
As for the IGP, who is policing the situation in Kashmir with his understanding of years, probing braid-chopping is an unusual experience. With no breakthrough into the case for exactly a month, the criminals seem to be part of a syndicate more resourceful than the Jammu and Kashmir Police. The police official known for his policing skills to ensure safety of women is facing the unusual challenge; may be because policing in conflict-zone is beyond the defined contours of counter-insurgency, law and order and routine crime!

—Couurtesy: RK
[Writer: majid.hyderi@gmail.com]