History as Lodestar

They must learn from history and take braid-chopping seriously

Z. G. Muhammad
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 22 2017 10:53PM | Updated Date: Oct 22 2017 10:53PM
History as LodestarFile Photo

I am as clueless, as any other common Kashmiri about the shocking incidents that have been taking place for almost past two months all-over Kashmir. Some young journalist might have computed the number of incidents but I have almost lost the count.  Nonetheless, with every sunrise scores of questions haunt the public mind about who is attacking dignity and honor of the daughters of the land by scissoring their locks, chopping their braids and cutting ponytails of young girls. Who are these faceless people behind the heinous crimes of molestation? What is the objective behind targeting daughters of the land - the embodiment of resilience and resistance? 

For centuries our women courage incarnate have been in the forefront against injustice. The 1924 workers revolt and 1931 mass uprising had thrown up women volunteers of fortitude who braved the water cannons and batons and dared the Maharaja and made him release their caged leaders. (GK May 7, 2017) In our contemporary history, there has been hardly an occasion when women of the land have not been in the vanguard along with men and stood like a rock against the perpetuation of deceit, denial, and injustice. Is it psy-ops with some greater political objective or a distraction for changing focus from some major and serious political issues that for past two years have been unfolding like lotus petals? Someone has rightly said, ‘the people who don't ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.’ 

In situation, when the State raises both the hands high above the shoulders and publicly announce that it too was clueless there is a scope for all sorts of speculations triggering rumours that could create ugly situations like the one that was reported from Sopore in newspaper, where “mentally deranged” was targeted as a ‘braid-chopper’ and badly hurt. Such bewildering situations tormented with fear leave lot of scope for the agent provocateurs to operate and spread panic in the society for achieving their nefarious objectives.  In such a situation, it is the political and religious leadership that has a bigger role to play in cautioning people against the agent provocateurs- and reviving slogans like Hooshar that during the 1964 Holy Relic Movement had resounded all over the state- and prevented the communal forces from playing their dirty tricks and altering the peoples narrative.  

‘It is not Lord Petre, cutting off a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair, and as a result, the young people’s families falling into strife’ that had inspired Alexander Pope to write famous poem ‘The Rape of the Lock’. It is no mock epic that is being enacted in densely populated Mohallas of the Srinagar or in desolate villages but by all stretch of the imagination, it an organized crime against the self-esteem of a people of Kashmir - whether natives or naturalized, whether on the streets or in the corridors of power.  That for centuries had seen chastity of women as more prised than their lives and saved them from lascivious eyes of marauders even the Mogul soldiers and made Akbar prevent his soldiers from coming out of their garrisons. 

One would believe the conjured narrative of some members of the coalition government supplemented by some “DOCTORS” that these “women suffered from hysteria or psychoneurosis”- but this ‘hegemonic discourse’ failed the litmus test as braid chopping assumed epidemic propositions- Kashmiri women did not lose their nerves when their children were slaughtered in pogroms like ‘catch and kill’. The most intriguing part has been the culprits after committing the crime vanishing in the thin of air and the government agencies so far having failed smoking out these criminals from their warrens.  

For understanding such a weird situation, history serves as a lodestar. Since 1947, history has been repeating itself in our state more than often and there are patterns within the pattern in the repetition of incidents causing a fear psychosis in the people.  True scissoring of braids of women are first of its kind incidents but there are many instances when similar incidents instilling fear in people with set pattern caused panic in entire Kashmir – leading to chaotic situations. In the late sixties, entire Kashmir suffered a spurt of midnight fires, villages after villages were burnt to ashes- and there was panic all over the state. In every village and Mohalla, to guard their localities against hidden hands who were torching their houses youth kept night vigil- and duty rosters were prepared by the Masjid committee. People widely had pointed their fingers towards the men in uniform. Nonetheless, the then government in power in the state pretended to be as clueless about these mysterious fires as the present government is about the braid chopping. Instead of coming out with facts, the mysterious fires were subtly attributed to some rabid communalists from a right-wing political party from outside the state. By maintaining intriguing silence the state administration allowed this discourse getting louder and louder. Another major discourse on the grapevine was that fires were handiwork of some   police officers owing personal loyalty to Chief Minister Sadiq- who interestingly had fallen apart with top Congress leadership on two counts, one, cracks within state Congress and two, New Delhi as Sadiq had told journalist, “Something was cooking up between Sheikh Abdullah and New Delhi for handing over power to him at my back”. Mrs. Gandhi on 6 September 1969 had told Sadiq to join hands with Sheikh Abdullah, which had he declined but Qasim showed willingness.” And Home Minister, S.B. Chavan after some time asked him “either listen to us otherwise resign.” This theory was popular with the elite, not common people. Even after the crisis of mysterious fires died down the government chose not to come out with facts about these fires but, let it pass into history as confusion worst confounded. 

It took more than 43 years for the truth about these mysterious fires to come to the fore and prove public perception about them correct when United States Institute of Peace, Washington published “My Kashmir” a study by Wajahat Habibullah in 2008. The author quotes Mubarak Shah, later a powerful minister in Syed Mir Qasim government and India’s Ambassador to Sudan saying about the mysterious fires, “some suspects were caught leaving the site of fire but, when found to be from BSF, were released by the police.” (P 27) It is not possible to quote many revelations made by the former within the limited space of this column but, the author very candidly informs us that civil administration during those fires had almost no role…. 

Instead of conjuring discourses and allowing the situation slip out of hand, the government must learn from the history and take braid chopping problem with more seriousness.