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hair raising tales

Every department involved with the case has its own theory – cops believe it to be a handiwork of miscreants spreading panic, psychologists call it mass hysteria; but unfortunately, the mystery remains unsolved till date and continues to haunt residents of Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, writes ZAFAR ABBAS.

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One may very well consider the incidents of braid chopping as 'mass hysteria,' but these incidents have clubbed up to pose as a 'challenge' to the police force of several states, to the scientists studying human behaviour and also to the renowned psychologists in the country. Every department involved with the case has its own theory – cops believe it to be a handiwork of miscreants spreading panic, psychologists call it mass hysteria; but unfortunately, the mystery remains unsolved till date and continues to haunt residents of Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi.

Some similar incidents have now been reported from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh as well. Nothing substantial has come out apart from registration of FIRs, some counselling sessions and a wild goose chase for the investigators.
To further complicate the mystery some victims have reported having seen a vague figure who pounced on them before they fell unconscious only to find that their hair has been chopped off. Some described the figure as that of a woman, while some said they saw a man dressed in yellow or red. In some cases, even cats were reportedly seen before or after the incident!
Before moving on to further discussion, let us take a quick look at what the police has to say regarding the unique trend of braid chopping incidents reported from Delhi. According to reports, a village named Kangenhedi in Chhawla had at least three women who claimed that their braids were chopped off. Kanganhedi falls in the South West district of Delhi. The DCP of the area is pretty rational in his approach and active on social media platforms like Twitter, therefore DCP Surender Kumar, apart from getting the FIRs registered also called in counsellors from the Institute of Human Behaviour and Applied Sciences ( IHBAS).
With a logical approach, it was assumed that some headway would be made and maybe a case or two be cracked with polished efforts of Delhi Police investigators concentrating on miscreant elements and psychologists focusing on 'internal psychological abnormalities' if any.
"We wanted to take a rational approach and not to give heed to any kind of superstitious belief and that's why we asked the counsellors of Institute of Human Behaviour and Applied Sciences ( IHBAS ) to help us," said Surender Kumar, DCP South West Delhi. Though the counsellors after long counselling sessions concluded that the victims are high on anxiety level but surprisingly they didn't deviate from their earlier statements given to police that they have no idea who chopped off their hair. None of the women confessed to having done it themselves leaving the investigation wide open.
While the police were doing their job the residents of the village were not sitting idle either. They devised their own way to fight the menace. Most residents seemed afraid to step beyond their doors, which they had adorned with neem branches and lemon-and-chilli good luck charms. The walls of almost all houses in the village bore palm impressions of cow dung and turmeric, which, the residents said, was to keep the evil at bay.
Interestingly, the cops too do not know whom they are chasing, or what they are after. With no dossier, no past records, and no sketches of an accused person (if at all someone is involved), the path of investigators is not just tough but also complicated as many officers are dealing with a menace of this kind for the first time in their career.
However, the interesting part of the case is that almost all victims ranging from Rajasthan to Haryana and parts of Delhi are not well educated. Gossips started circulating that it is the handiwork of some 'ghost barber' or some tantrik.
But before you start believing these, ask yourself: Why has the 'ghost barber' failed to make any intrusion in posh colonies like New friends Colony or Greater Kailash, Panchsheel Enclave or Hauz Khas? Why is the 'ghost barber' not targeting women who have a bob cut? Why no female doctors or engineers or teachers or highly literate women have been a victim of the braid chopping incidents? Is the 'ghost barber' scanning through one's bio data to check their educational qualifications before striking his victim? Why has there been no reported incidents of braid chopping from the southern states of the country? Is the 'ghost barber' is saving transportation cost and travelling just in northern India? Laughable!
The chaos and daily reporting of the braid chopping incidents in prominent papers both English and Hindi adorned with catchy headlines like 'Phanthom barber' in English and 'Chotikatwa' in Hindi compelled another DCP of Delhi Police MN Tiwari to release an audio message on WhatsApp. The message was both personal and prudent. Tiwari who is DCP Outer Delhi appealed the media to be rational in their approach.
MN Tiwari said, "My eight-year-old daughter is scared and is asking me about the truth behind the hair chopping incidents. The incidents that she has heard about are having an adverse effect on her. If my daughter feels so, other children in her age group might feel the same."
Tiwari appealed to the media to be more judicious in their reporting and adopt a scientific approach. He urged the media not to be carried away by fairy tales or stories of witchcraft.
The senior police officer also said he was sceptical about a case of braid chopping in Ranhola, where the investigating cops had their reservations and were not much convinced by the victim's claims. The result, no FIR of braid chopping was registered in his jurisdiction.
However, days after the appeal a Delhi Police retired sub inspector called the police. This was no normal call, it was about his wife's braid being chopped off. Soon, his house was flooded with men in khaki uniform and the curious neighbours and definitely, the media.
Jai Narayan, who retired in July this year, said, "I came home after getting my mother discharged from hospital and noticed my wife sleeping on the bed. I took food from the kitchen and had lunch outside the room. When I went back again, I noticed my wife's braid was chopped off and then she complained of a headache."
His wife claimed that she first saw a vague figure and fell asleep because owing to a headache. After waking up, she noticed her braid was chopped off.
The mysterious cases in various parts of Haryana and Delhi have shaken up mass hysteria alive and brought back memories of similar weird old cases where a 'monkey man' shocked and scared the Capital becoming the talk of every household in 2001. People sleeping in their houses reported a strange monkey like creature that appeared at night and attacked people while they were asleep.
The 'kala bandar' or monkey man or 'muhnuchwa' created a lot of panic among people and caused many in the capital to abandon the habit of sleeping on the terrace for the fear getting attacked. Some people were also reportedly injured in the attacks. Rumours soon gained momentum and various versions of the creature came into light. This mass hysteria also led Bollywood to make a movie Delhi-6 inspired by the story.
Pulkit Sharma, a psychologist says, "It is quite unlikely that women who are from villages would do it by themselves as long hair is considered to be a symbol of femininity. That makes the probe very essential. Sometimes a man who has a strong hatred for women might leave a stamp mark of this type that needs to be investigated."
Whether this is the return of mass hysteria in the outskirts of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan is yet to be unravelled. However, the cops also seem confused with the incidents where the victims only have their braid chopped off without any ransacking in the house or reports of theft. The incidents took an ugly turn when an elderly woman was allegedly beaten to death by two men in a village in Agra, early on August 2. Mandevi was allegedly lynched at Mutnai village in Agra's Dauki police station allegedly on suspicion of braid chopping.
As responsible citizens, we too have a moral obligation to curtail the spread of rumours as otherwise, the effects could be both devastating and hazardous for our society. Just passing on the imaginary tales would further complicate the situation. Rational approach and a scientific attitude are all that we need at the moment to probe into the matter.
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