Whether it’s ghosts, child traffickers or braid-choppers, the resilient people of Kashmir will continue to rise
It was the mid 90’s, winter had descended on Kashmir, and we had just had our dinner. Lately, dinner conversations had been just about one thing – the daeyn (feminine ghosts).
The daeyn had recently arrived in Kashmir. Some would say they were from the jungles in Kupwara, while others said it was from the woods across the Line of Control (LoC) and was wreaking havoc in Kashmir. My uncle, in a hushed tone, informed my father of the latest victim of the daeyn’s attack – Samad Khan.
Samad Khan, popularly known as Khan sahib, came from Islamabad in the Kashmir Valley and worked in the local mosque. His duty, apart from looking after its maintenance, was to light the firewood beneath the mosque’s hamam, a room with rectangular, hand-hewn limestone laid upon a hollowed-out floor to make it warm and comfortable during the harsh winters. He was thus used to being the first one to enter the mosque in the morning so he could prepare the hamam before dawn.
The daeyn had been shrewd in choosing the timing of its assault. Early in the morning, before dawn, when Khan sahib left his home for the mosque, his head was hit with an unknown object. Luckily, he survived the attack with only a scar running down the side of his face, splitting his hennaed beard to reveal his 17 stitches. As was common in all such attacks in those days, Khan sahib claimed,
“It was a daeyn, in full black.”
This phenomenon had left the Kashmiri people in constant fear. It was not long before some dilawar (brave-hearted) men caught daeyn in the act, one after the other at various places, and removed the veil to reveal that the daeyn had descended from the army camps in Kashmir.
There was a brief lull in between, and sometime between late 90’s and early 2000’s, a new phenomenon emerged to scare the people of Kashmir. This time it was a mysterious group of people, known as the Jang’e sein (child traffickers). Rumour had it that they would take away small children to the plains in India, chop off their body parts or gauge their eyes and make them beg, much like what was shown in the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire.
Some would say that Jang’e sein came to Kashmir in the garb of scrap collectors from India, others believed that this was a new ploy of the daeyn from the camps. However, the truth always remained shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, much like the daeyn, it made the Kashmiri people fear for their children and drew them indoors. I remember my grandmother forcing me to carry my cricket bat to school as a weapon for self-defence, in case the Jang’e sein tried to lay their hands on me.
Years later, it is now the mysterious braid-choppers who are on a spree across Kashmir and have reportedly cut the braids of more than a hundred women. Women have been attacked outside, and even inside their homes. The attackers choose their targets as astutely as ever – when the women are alone. According to the victims, the attackers covered their faces in masks and used a liquid spray which would leave them unconscious. When they would regain consciousness, they would notice that their braids have been chopped off. This new form of attacks have once again left the people of Kashmir terrified and confined to their homes for their safety, or as my mother would put it,
“We are in self-imprisonment.”
The police have been clueless, or at least claim to be, while the number of incidents increase and spread day by day. It is astonishing that even though more than a hundred women have reportedly been attacked, the police simply hopes for the “incidents to vanish” from Kashmir soon. The incompetent and indifferent Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, who failed to take any action against the attacks that followed the killing of Burhan Wani, simply labelled the attacks as “trying to cause mass hysteria”.
If one closely examines the timing of these events, a pattern is evident. Such occurrences, whether it be the daeyn, the mysterious Jang’e sein or the braid-choppers, tend to occur when militancy in Kashmir is on a rise. Lately, as the number of militants has been surging, so have the attacks on Indian troops. It is common knowledge that the people of Kashmir are largely supportive of the militants, with many even allowing them sanctuary in their homes. It is not coincidental then that lately, as southern Kashmir has been a hotbed of the militancy, it has also received the brunt of the braid-chopping attacks.
Many in Kashmir believe that this is the handiwork of the Indian agencies in Kashmir to create mass paranoia among the people so that the movement of the militants is affected. The trauma of these attacks has people locking their doors even before dusk and everyone is a suspect, just as it was during the daeyn and Jang’e sein phenomena. Under such circumstances, the mobility of the militants gets affected and hence so does their ability to attack.
Occupations are a breeding ground to ploys. The occupier thrills in seeing the occupied flutter about in utter desperation. Such ploys also shatter any hope for freedom or safety, as the victims and citizens begin to see themselves as endangered and at complete mercy of the occupier. The people are left dejected to the point where they submit to the occupier and accept slavery as their fate. The Kashmiri people, however, have seen vicious ploys many times in the past and, resilient as always, will continue to rise against them.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.