SRINAGAR, Kashmir — Shaqeela Sajad was sweeping the front porch last week when a masked man dressed in black forced a handkerchief over her nose and attacked her.
“When I opened my eyes in the hospital, I found my braid had been hacked,” said Sajad, 24, who is pregnant with her first child, from her home in Srinagar in India-administered Kashmir.
These unknown “braid-choppers” are creating a new type of terror in the hamlets and towns of the Himalayan Kashmir region, which has witnessed much bloodshed over the past three decades from a territorial conflict between India and Pakistan.
The new fear stems from an assailant, or band of attackers, who are drugging young women and chopping off their braids for reasons no one can explain with certainty. Most women here have braided hair under their head coverings, so all are potential victims and they are fearful.
In the past six weeks, more than 200 “braid-chopping” incidents were reported, according to local police.
The attackers storm homes or take down lone women in markets and alleys before cutting their hair. The tied bundle of hair is usually found at the scene.
This is a highly conservative, Muslim-majority region, where women view cutting their hair or displaying it publicly as dishonorable. Most women cover their heads with scarves. Also, it’s taboo for a man who is not related to touch a woman.
The situation is so alarming that the regional government announced a bounty of $9,000 for information on the braid-choppers. Police currently have no leads.
Protesters say the government is not doing enough. Strikes and protests held Friday across Kashmir resulted in violence after demonstrators pelted stones at Indian troops, who fired back with tear gas…