Plight of Women of Kashmir Conflict: Special Reference to Mysterious Braid Chopping

Image credit: World. In pictures: Kashmir’s ‘half-widows’


Kashmir turmoil that has been simmering since 1947 has fulminated and intensified since past 3 decades. The issue is protracted and violent, which has taken a massive toll on human lives. Women amidst the mayhem have been equal recipients in the suffering. Most Kashmiri women have not only been an important component but were front wheels of development may it be handicrafts, education, or even running tiny business establishments. However, conflicted dark past led such post-siege scenario where women folk were almost on back foot still struggling to cope with ongoing tragedies.  As it is often an issue of survival and sustenance. Many women have been forced into the forefront by the dire insecurity they live in.

United Nations, on Oct 30, 2002, reported that “rape and the humiliation of women and girls have been used as an instrument of war” by Indian security forces in the Indian-occupied Kashmir. According to a 1993 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the security forces use rape as a method of retaliation against Kashmiri civilians during reprisal attacks after militant ambushes. Most rape cases, according to the same report, have occurred during cordon-and-search operations.  According to a 1996 HRW report, security personnel in Kashmir have used “rape as a counterinsurgency tactic”. (Mathur, Shubh 2016) calls rape an essential element of the Indian military strategy in Kashmir. William Baker stated at 52nd United Nations Commission on Human Rights defines it as not the result of a few undisciplined soldiers but an active strategy of the security forces to humiliate and intimidate the Kashmiri population.  Reported cases like Kunan Poshpora (1991) when, a unit of the Indian army launched a search and interrogation operation in the twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora, in the Valley’s Kupwara district where they repeatedly gang-raped many women in age range of 12-64, with estimates of the number of victims ranging from 23 to 100. And most of the cases remained undocumented and unheard whereas according to ( Kazi Seema 2014) of all the human rights violations in Kashmir, rape has drawn the least investigations and prosecutions due to influence of, the military courts in general, lack of independence and impartiality of those proceedings, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) Act 1958 and in-competencies  of current are  former state administrations.


Half-widows’ another blot on womenfolk is a word used to describe wives of men who have gone disappeared but have not been declared dead. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons estimated 1500 half widows due to toa disappearance of 8000- 10000 men since 1989. This exploits them to a state of permanent limbo as they suffer the consequences of an ‘ambiguous loss’ with ambiguity and uncertainty.  This unresolved grief results in severe mental health illnesses, psychological disorders like post traumatic stress and depression. Paul D’Souza and Aman Trust suggested that 92 per cent of Kashmir’s ‘half-widows’ experience high vulnerability across the social, economic, gender, cultural and health dimensions. Deya Bhattacharya explained through a paper titled The Plight of Kashmiri Half-Widows the financial challenges faced like getting a pension, ration cards, bank accounts or getting property rights becomes difficult as a death certificate is required for all. The plight of half-widows highlights a lopsided legal system, governance negligence, a cruel culture and impotency of administration to address the issues of disappearances. In the absence of rehabilitation mechanisms and unresponsive government machinery, these women continue to bear the brunt of the conflict prevailing here.

In general, the absence of a robust women’s movement in Kashmir is quite conspicuous. A few local organizations have taken up the cause of women’s issues but such organizations have suffered from inherent weaknesses. Organizations such as Dukhtaran-E-Millat, Daughters of the Faith, (hereafter DM) and the Muslim Khawateen Markaz Council, Council of Muslim Women, (hereafter MM) have struggled for the rights of Kashmir women but their efforts have been hampered because of a variety of reasons like diversion from real issue, ban from Govt agencies and lack of funding arrangements and professional work force to cater the social economical and psychological problems.

Mystery of braid chopping in Kashmir

Mysterious braid chopping incidents have gripped the Kashmir valley and have become rampant in almost all parts of Kashmir valley from south to north Kashmir. Most of the braid chopping incidents were reported from Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopian districts and was confined to south Kashmir only. But now it has spread to the whole valley. Every day 5 to 7 cases of braid cutting were received from the entire valley. So far, over 50 incidents of alleged braid cutting have been reported from the south Kashmir districts of Kulgam, Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama and other parts of the valley, creating panic among the people, especially women folk. It has been also noticed that the braid choppers use some kind of spray to make victims unconsciousbefore cutting their hair. The incidents of braid chopping in Kashmir are so worrisome, that both politician and separatists are pressurizing state government to make its stand clear on braid chopping, identify the people behind it, and take stern action against them. The police has taken suo motto cognizance of these cases after victims report at hospitals, as most of the victims do not want to reveal their ordeal, because of social stigma. Even after the happening of more than 50 incidents of mysterious hair cutting, but police authorities are yet to unmask the people behind this mysterious hair cutting. The police authorities have sent the samples of hair chopped under mysterious circumstances to forensic science laboratories for tests, but reasons behind braid cutting are still unknown. People are suspecting hand of security forces in hair chopping, because mysterious hair chopping is not the first kind of tactics used in Kashmir to panic and create fear among Kashmiris. In the 1990s, ghoststactics was used, who raidedduring late night to scare people. Later Ikhwan government-sponsored militants were flourished, who were given free hand to kill, harass, beat and plunder. This phase of terror engulf the lives of thousands of innocent Kashmiris and property worth of crores. All these tactics were used to crate fear among Kashmiris. The current incidents of hair cutting seem similar to what was happening in the rest of the country. However, in Kashmir the situation different, there is a chance that some people mighthave used the incidents of hair choppingto encash their opportunity. All these incidents have raised questions on the credibility of JK police and other paramilitary forces in Kashmir. By accusing separatist and increasing amount of cash rewards for those who will provide information about hair choppers, the police is trying to run away from its responsibilities.  It have been observedin the past that police hardly takes two to five days to crack any other incidents like robbery, murder, rape etc. Then why police and other paramilitary forces are clueless in braid chopping? When a common mancan, caught a braid chopper, why not the police? In addition, when people catch any hair chopper, why forces immediately come to rescue him? It raises suspicion that the mysterious braid chopping is carried out at the behest of agencies and sponsored by forces in Kashmir. It was also reported that in south Kashmir; many hair choppers have been caught. As soon as they were caught, forces immediately come and rescue them from masses. It is enough for a layman that braid chopping is a tactic carried out in Kashmir to create the horrific and fearful environment in Kashmir. In all the cases where hair choppers were caught, forces and paramilitary forces faced stiff resistance from the public.  In order to save and rescue hair choppers, forcesfired in the air, using tear gas shells and pellets to disperse people. Obviously, the police has announced the cash reward for informers about hair choppers and have formed special investigating teams in every district and establishing help lines is nothing, but the tactics of hoodwinking the people and avoiding criticism from civil society.


Stance of Administration and Stakeholders:

Under the paranoid atmosphere of fear and coldness, different repercussions are becoming headlines and trend on social media where possibilities and probabilities are discussed at very high. Blame game as usual is the briefing of most of the meetings held by state and central administration. Even hysteria ungovernable emotional excess disorder appeared among the defending tools.  General people, the ultimate victims have their stance that neither the administration nor the populace has been able to answer any of the questions related to this crime-apparently well organized and coordinated. The administration has not moved a step in the direction of solving the mystery till now other than slurring it to Pakistan and so called sponsored Freedom movement for their personnel benefit. Mehbooba Mufti led Govt is speaking the same language of bosses and CM Mehbooba Mufti recently tweeted that it was an attempt “to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the state.” However, police are now taking the attacks seriously after being criticized by the government-run Women’s Commission over their initial approach, although no arrests have yet been made by police and are blaming “radical elements” and detained a worker of a political party for raising “false alarms of braid-chopping”. However, the fraught political situation in Kashmir is now coloring accusations around who is behind the attacks. Separatist leaders have alleged the attacks are the “handiwork of Indian agencies” trying to intimidate the part of Kashmir’s population that opposes to Indian rule.

In last one and half month, about 100 hair-cutting incidents have been reported from across the Valley with Kulgam accounting for the highest number of 28 such cases.“We are warning the government to put an end to this menace soon otherwise it will have to pay a heavy price,” an angry woman, Jana Begum, tells the government in a trending video on social media. Begum’s daughter was found in an unconscious state at her house last week, her braid chopped off. Most of the incidents are happening in unrest prone districts like Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian. While the people have out rightly rejected the theory of mass hysteria claimed by police and state Govt terming it as tool divert the attention of people from spreading unrest throughout, but on other hand are fertilizing madness aimed at creating panic and pushing Kashmir’s towards street protests and valley into chaos, why not replace these knee jerk reactions with pragmatism to defeat these designs rather than serving them.

In response, a self defense mechanism Vigilante groups armed with axes and wooden boards have been formed in some neighborhoods in response to the alleged attacks.  It is an important tool to cope up as it responses too are often instantaneous. However, vigilante groups have emerged in almost every locality of the Valley in an attempt to safeguard their areas but locals and outsiders have faced their brunt. Several persons including tourists who turned out to be just passing by have been murderously assaulted. There was an attempt to burn one suspect, and to drown another. Ironically, Govt blames them as backed by those who have in the past promoted mob mobilization against the government. But others have mocked the government for being helpless. Many Kashmiris blame the army for the braid-chopping. This theory suggests that the forces are generating a scare so that no one would give shelter to a stranger. “We can’t rule out genuine concerns but the situation is turning ugly. Every day we come across incidents were an innocent person is beaten only because of the over-zealous vigilantism. This is only bringing a bad name to Kashmir,” said a local journalist, who declined to be identified.

Collectively all stakeholders mostly administration has to show seriousness and gear up the efforts to contain the spread of this terror epidemic to an uncontrollable level and to solve the mystery at the earliest. At the same time, the populace has to stop relying solely on the administration, as we can’t afford to. The bigger responsibility, at the individual as well as collective levels, lies on the people to uncover the faces of the criminals and put an end the menace, once for all.
Firstly, people have to be vigilant around and escort women to far flung places. Women must be prepared to defend themselves. Secondly, if a person is caught on suspicion of being a chopper, People must not let the mob take the control and must try to collect as much evidence as possible. Last, but not the least we must not take law into our own hands even if a person is caught red-handed. We must involve the responsible citizens of the society or the administration; we must never let our emotions overpower our intelligence. Whether braid chopping is real or hysterical, physical or psychological, one thing has become clear, we as a people are the worst posters of what we claim to be – Kashmiris. Neither Kashmir’s ethos nor the teachings of the religion of Isla allow. Govt authorities have to come forward and take this issue seriously. Police must act now and swung in action, not by announcing the prizes and putting it on the shoulders on people. But people need to be equally supportive with the department in order to identify the culprits at the earliest. Unity is needed, so is caution from each and every member of the society.


Kashmir is too often seen through the prism of the violence in and around it due to its geopolitical situation thus Women modesty has often been bided by the black storm of conflict. But mostly unheard and painted by different names as rightly said by ~Naomi Wolf “Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is a madness or hysteria.” Braid chopping is among one among puzzling storms which have shaken the women modesty in conthe flicted territory of Kashmir from long past and stress focus from all stakeholder to collectively put an end to protect women modesty at earliest through all possible means.


Addressing the issues of misthe erable condition of women folk in cona flict zone like Kashmir stringent rules and laws should be applicable and independently probed without delay and involvement of army courts and all. Secondly, to identify the crimes and culprits in ongoing conflict situations independent and expert probe through forensic instruments should be done. Encouragement at the fullest possible through parthe ticipation of women in peace processes as well in post-conflict peace-building, including in reintegration, reconstruction and rehabilitation of societies in the post-conflict phase should be given priority. International bodies including UNs specialized organs and agencies should address the special needs of women and girls affected by conflict including health and psychological care. International peace maintaining bodies, media and other non Govt organisation should come forward to report and respond to this appalling situation. An effective and coordinated response by the international community is the need of the hour. It will not be out of place to mention that Kashmiri woman is being punished for supporting a peoples struggle for redeeming their right of self determination as promised by the international community in the UN charter and UN resolutions.


Reference & Bibliography

“Rape in Kashmir: A Crime of War” Asia Watch & Physicians for Human Rights A Division of Human Rights Watch. 5 (9): 1.

Littlewood, Roland. “Military Rape.” Anthropology Today, vol. 13, no. 2, 1997, pp. 7–16.

“India’s Secret Army in Kashmir”Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 15 August 2017.

Mathur, Shubh (1 February 2016). The Human Toll of the Kashmir Conflict: Grief and Courage in a South Asian Borderland. Palgrave Macmillan US. pp. 60–. ISBN 978-1-137-54622-7.

Ranjan, Amit. “A Gender Critique of AFSPA: Security for Whom?.” Social Change 45.3 (2015): 447.

Kazi, Seema. “Rape, Impunity and Justice in Kashmir.” Socio-Legal Rev. 10 (2014): 25-26.