J&K: Mob mistakes mentally ill man for braid chopper, tries to set him on fire

The Asian Age.  | Yusuf Jameel

India, All India

The police and witnesses said that a mob caught hold of the mentally deranged person and thrashed him severely.

Similar incidents have been reported from some other parts of the Valley where braids of more than 150 women and girls have been cut by unknown assailants during the past month. (Photo: Representational/File)

Srinagar: The vigilantism over alleged braid chopping is Kashmir has gone wrong again, rather taken a bizarre turn.

On Friday, a mob tried to set a mentally deranged person to fire on suspicion of him being a braid chopper in north-western town of Sopore.

In Srinagar, a worshipper was beaten up mercilessly during a visit to famed Hazratbal shrine on the banks of the Dal Lake.

Similar incidents have been reported from some other parts of the Valley where braids of more than 150 women and girls have been cut by unknown assailants during the past month.

The police and witnesses said that a mob caught hold of the mentally deranged person and thrashed him severely on suspicion of being a braid chopper in Sopore’s Pothkhan, Nowpora area on Friday.

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The victim who was later identified as Waseem Ahmed, a resident of Sharakawara village of Baramulla district, was surrounded by a mob of about 800 people which after beating him to the pulp tried to set him on fire, said Sopore’s Superintendent of Police, Harmeet Singh.

The officer said that Ahmed was rescued by the police and taken to a Srinagar hospital in critical condition.

The police said that it has registered an FIR and identified some people involved in the attack with the help of videos that have gone viral on social media.

“We will make arrests soon,” he said.

Following the incident, clashes erupted between irate crowds of youth and the security forces. The latter fired teargas canisters to disperse stone-throwing mobs in the area.

In Srinagar’s Hazratbal area, a mob tried to lynch a person after accusing him of being a braid chopper.

The police said that he had come to Hazratbal to offer fajr (dawn) prayers at the famed shrine but was “mistaken” as a braid chopper by the locals and beaten up mercilessly. The mob also tried to kill him by drowning him in the Dal Lake, the police said.

A day earlier, a Special Police Officer who was on a visit of the area to meet his brother, a student of Kashmir University, at his rented accommodation was also beaten up by a mob on suspicion of being braid chopper.

There have been fresh protests across the Valley over the alleged braid chopping acts and the police’s failure to arrest the culprits. At places, these protests turned violent after which the police and central paramilitaries used tear smoke and swung bamboo sticks to quell the stone-throwing mobs.

The police and central paramilitaries enforced a lockdown in seven police station areas of summer capital Srinagar on Friday to prevent such protests for which a call had been issued by an alliance of separatist leaders.

The City’s historic Grand Mosque was at dawn surrounded by dozens of gun-wielding policemen and CRPF jawans to prevent worshippers from entering it for the Friday congregation.

The Chief cleric and separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who delivers customary sermon in the mosque on Fridays was placed under house arrest.

The increasing incidents of braid chopping has triggered a wave of terror among the Valley’s women and girls. The victims have said that unknown assailants cut their hair after knocking them unconscious with some spray. Many people accuse the police of being behind these incidents or, at least, shielding the culprits.

Inspector General of Police, Munir Ahmed Khan, strongly denied the charge and said that Special Investigation Teams (SITs) have been set up to probe the incidents and 24x7 helplines were started in all the ten districts of the Valley earlier to enable people seek its help in preventing their re-occurrence.

The police also announced a reward of Rs. 600,000 for credible information leading to arrest of the person behind braid chopping. However, the authorities are clueless and no formal arrests have been made, so far.

The police said that not only have vigilante mobs thrashed innocents mistaking them for braid choppers which has resulted into the death of, at least, one person, the situation has been seized by some people to settle personal scores.

The alliance of key separatist leaders - Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, has called for yet another shutdown in the Valley on Saturday against the growing menace of braid chopping, reiterating that it was a “deliberate attack on the dignity of women” in Kashmir.  

It termed it as an “Indian ploy” to target the women in the Valley through “specially trained persons.”

The alliance, however, appealed the people not to thrash any suspects and instead hand them over to mosque committees.

Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, had last week said that braid-chopping incidents were attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of women in the State.

“Braid chopping incidents are attempts to create mass hysteria and undermine the dignity of the women in the State. Government will ensure steps are taken to find the motives behind these,” she said after chairing a meeting of officials here.

Earlier she had issued ‘strict instructions’ to the divisional administration and the police to arrest the culprits found involved the braid chopping incidents in the State.

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