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HomeReportKashmir psychiatrists say braid chopping is nothing but mass hysteria

Kashmir psychiatrists say braid chopping is nothing but mass hysteria

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Valley psychiatrists say that the government and police have allowed the situation to get out of hand after incidents of braid chopping.

New Delhi: The ‘braid chopping crisis’ that has gripped Kashmir seems like a classic case of mass hysteria, and decades of siege mentality of locals borne out of living in a conflict-torn region may have fuelled this in a big way, psychiatrists in the troubled Valley said.

First reported in south Kashmir on 6 September, braid chopping seems to be a copycat crime, where women have complained about unknown assailants attacking them with a chemical to make them numb, and then chopping off their braids.

And like it often happens in Kashmir, the phenomena has acquired political colour, after mob attacks on innocent persons suspected to be behind the braid chopping incidents. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the opposition National Conference are engaged in mud-slinging, while the usual pointing of fingers at the security forces and separatists is also underway.

Psychiatric opinion

The issue has become so sensitive that doctors at the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Srinagar claimed that they have been instructed by hospital authorities to not speak to the media about what they say is a mental health problem.

A senior doctor at the hospital told ThePrint that the baggage of the Kashmir conflict has led the women of Kashmir to go through a phase of “dissociative disorder” in the way of braid chopping.

“It is simple. The victims examined by us have given descriptions which clearly bring forth the illusions and hysteria among them,” said the psychiatrist who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is sad that even a child who was with her parents in a locked house said her braid was chopped by someone, while her parents ruled out any such thing.”

The psychiatrist underlined that the delay in issuing a medical advisory has allowed criminal elements and vested interests to worsen the situation, and that the entire psychiatric department was now assessing victims to check whether it was indeed mass hysteria.

“The victims we assess mention that they had heard about it before, which gives a clue about what sparked it. Psychiatric disorders have a cultural background; in a state like Rajasthan, people become illusionary for reasons like ghosts in folklore, while in Kashmir, women are prone to psychological problems due to conflict, both direct and indirect,” the doctor added.

“There is trust deficit and paranoia. They have memories of security forces that have created a fear psychosis, which is why some have said the braid chopper resembled an Army man,” the doctor said.

Another psychiatrist blamed the government and the police for letting the situation get out of hand, when other states in north India had managed to keep the hysteria under control.

“They failed to respond the way authorities responded to the issue in other states of north India. Had the authorities brought in medical professionals on board at the beginning, the issue would have been settled then,” the doctor said.

Also read: The Army’s new challenge in Kashmir: Mob violence after braid chopping

Not everyone is in agreement with the mental health professionals though. The state women’s commission chairperson Nayeema Ahmed Mehjoor refused to accept that mass hysteria is the only reason for the crisis.

“I have personally met and spoken to the victims, thus I am convinced that this issue cannot be completely looked at as mass hysteria. There are criminal elements involved in it,” she told ThePrint.

“The victims were conscious and mentally sound when I spoke to them. Every woman cannot cut her hair out of hysteria.”

How the issue got out of hand

Night vigils and announcements on loudspeakers in mosques and the government announcing a reward of Rs 6 lakh for information or leads have given rise to vigilantism, only worsening the situation. Mobs have already beaten up innocent tourists, a lover, a driver, and a mentally-challenged person for these ‘crimes’.

Common people, including activists of the Hurriyat’s Joint Resistance Leadership, have taken to the streets all over Kashmir, with several injured in the authorities’ crackdown.

Speaking to ThePrint, DGP S.P. Vaid blamed the Hurriyat for complicating the situation. “The Hurriyat is issuing calendars, giving calls for shutdowns…where can one get with it? There is no need for them to protest over this, except complicating the situation further,” he said.

Rumours and suspicion that the security forces are involved in the incidents have made the mob mentality difficult to control. However, Mehjoor is clear that the security forces cannot be blamed.

“I appealed that if anybody has proof that they have handed over a braid chopper to the police to come forward, but no one did. I know in the last 30 years there has been a trust deficit, but there is no proof that security forces are involved. People have beaten up innocents out of suspicion,” she said.


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