Srinagar): 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.
According to media reports, despite suggestions the cases may have been fabricated or fuelled 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 of the area 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.
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.
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.
Videos of angry relatives accusing police and soldiers while brandishing cut braids have been widely shared on social media.
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.
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.”