“With the night patrols being organised by the locals, armed with lathis, both Army personnel and militants have restricted their movements at night in the residential localities. On two occasions, there were false allegations of the Army sheltering the culprits after the attacks,” he said.In the atmosphere of uncertainty, both security agencies and militants accuse each other of carrying out the attacks. Director General of Police, J&K, S.P. Vaid claimed that rumours blaming the security forces was a ploy “to be used by separatists in their favour”.The indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen’s south Kashmir-based operational commander Riyaz Naikoo however, sees the braid-chopping as “a ploy to counter militant attacks”.“It is an Indian ploy to scare people and keep them away from militants. It’s being promoted as militants have successfully covered their movements in the past two months and the [security] agencies have failed to trace them,” said Mr. Naikoo, in an audio message released on the social media.No room for loveAnother casualty of the scare has been romance. Earlier last week, at least two youth were severely beaten by residents who accused them of cutting braids. However, police investigations revealed that the two “had gone to see their girlfriends in Baramulla and Ganderbal”.Muzaffar Ahmad Wani, a resident of Ganderbal’s Khalmulla, had to be admitted to hospital for injuries after being “mistaken for the braid-chopper as he waited for his girlfriend outside a house”.“The girlfriend resides at Ganderbal’s Nunar and had come to Kujjar area where they had planned to meet. However, the locals beat the boy who was waiting for her,” the Ganderbal police report said.CCTVs in demandNot surprisingly, the attacks have seen a sharp rise in people buying home security equipment, leaving Basit Khan a happy man. A home security dealer in Srinagar, Mr. Khan said, “Enquiries related to home security have gone up from 10 a month to over a thousand. People are looking for pepper sprays and CCTVs.”Some doctors in Srinagar have suggested that “even cases where females suffer from acute dissociative psychiatric diseases and may chop [their own] hair” are likely to be listed as cases of attacks.In fact, the Baramulla police say one girl, who claimed to have been attacked by unknown men on October 5, “turned out to be a psychiatric patient”.PTI adds:Separatists call for shutdownSeparatists have called for a shutdown in Kashmir on Monday against the incidents of braid-chopping.In a statement, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik said the incidents were part of a “well-thought-out” conspiracy. “The dignity of womenfolk is at stake,” they said and urged the people to observe a total shutdown against the humiliation meted out to women. An angry protester at Baghat in Srinagar. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad “I was grabbed from behind. I almost choked. It was a tall masked man,” she recalls. Ms. Shazia says she did not give up and put up a fight till the attacker pulled out a spray. “Some substance was sprinkled on me. He held my wrists, and I started losing consciousness. All I could do was raise an alarm,” she recalls. Her neighbours came to her rescue.For 22-year-old Insha, a resident of Malwan in Kulgam, having her braid chopped off inside her house left her traumatised. It was late evening on September 20, when she sensed she was being pursued by an unknown man while on the way to the washroom located outside the house. She was descending the stairs when she was attacked.“All I remember is that someone poured a drop of water on my neck. As I shouted for help, I fell unconscious,” she said. Ms. Insha’s mother found her braid cut and lying on the staircase.Since then Ms. Insha has had nightmares, where masked men pull out her remaining hair. Her family is baffled over who the culprit could be.These are but a few of the several reports of women’s braids being cut off by unknown men that have sparked panic across Kashmir. According to police records, the first incident was reported on September 14 from Kulgam district, a hotbed of militancy in south Kashmir. Since then, as many as 65 incidents have been reported across the Valley with Kulgam accounting for 30 cases, followed by adjacent Shopian.Despite the police having lodged over 35 FIRs, the mystery deepens with each new incident as no culprit has yet been held nor any evidence found to link the cases.SIT on the jobChief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and announced ₹6 lakh as reward.“We have to study these cases in the backdrop of what was happening outside J&K. Unfortunately, no victim is cooperating with the police,” said Inspector General of Police Muneer Khan.The victims’ accounts follow a pattern, according to the police: unknown men sprinkle some substance to render the women unconscious, cut off their hair/braids and flee while leaving behind the braid at the crime scene.According to the State Women Commission chairperson Nayeema Mehjoor, the aim does not seem to be to “earn money from the hair but induce fear in society”. “My worry is that the failure of the police to identity culprits is only fuelling speculation. Why can’t the police solve these cases when they could carry out anti-militancy operations with great precision,” asked Ms. Mehjoor.Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Ahmad also questioned the role of the police. “The police came when we took to the streets over the incident. But they took no action.”Varied falloutThe attacks have had interesting consequences. A senior counter-insurgency police official said that since the braid-cutting scare, both “cordon-and-search operations of the security forces and activities of the militants have come down” in south Kashmir. Arifa Jan (name changed), a 29-year-old resident of Srinagar’s Azad Basti, began her normal routine on Friday morning. Given the nippy autumn weather, her chores began later than usual at 8 a.m. as she began sweeping the pavement outside her two-storey home in the congested locality that remained volatile during the 2016 street protests. Ms. Jan was done sweeping and was mopping the pavement when the door creaked open. Ms. Arifa remembers little of the strange events that followed.All she recalls is that two Kashmiri-speaking men with beards barged in and sprayed some substance on her. Minutes later, her husband, Tariq Ahmad, a readymade garments dealer, who was sipping his morning tea inside, heard a shriek. He rushed out to find his wife unconscious at the entrance. “There was an obvious bid to cut her hair,” Mr. Ahmad told this reporter.‘Police inactive’Mr. Ahmad rushed outside to check the lanes and bylanes but couldn’t detect any fleeing persons or any suspicious movement. “We decided to protest on the streets. Who could do this? Why? The police came but took no major action,” said Mr. Ahmad.Shazia Jan of Kulgam, on the other hand, was attacked under the cover of darkness. It was around 8.30 p.m. on September 23 when the 32-year-old left home to visit her neighbours. Suddenly, she felt hands around her neck. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad A Batamaloo homemaker, whose braid was cut, being comforted by her relatives at her residence in Srinagar.