A spate of mysterious braid-chopping incidents in India's far north has forced local authorities to restrict public gatherings as thousands of people have taken to the streets demanding action. The order restricting public gatherings to only five people, was imposed on Oct. 9 in Srinigar, the capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. It comes three days after similar restrictions were put in place in other parts of the state. With over 40 cases reported since September, "the situation is getting serious with each passing day," said Father Saiju Chacko spokesperson for the Jammu-Srinagar Diocese that covers the entire state. Jammu and Kashmir borders Pakistan and Islamic separatist groups have continued a long struggle to either join Pakistan or make Kashmir an independent state. Separatist leaders have labelled the braid attacks a "ploy of Indian agencies to create fear and psychosis among the people." "India is frightened by the commitment people have shown towards the freedom movement," separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik said in a statement. "To divert the attention of the people, women are now being targeted." Kashmiri people are intimidated by the huge Indian army
presence in the region, the statement added. The government has already placed separatist leaders under house detention as it fears large scale protests and demonstrations. Despite the separatists' claims about the attacks, police say they are clueless about the people and motives behind them. Before the chopping incidents, masked men spray women in the face with a tranquilizer, before removing a braid of hair which is left next to the unconscious victim. Maryam Bano, an 11-year-old fifth grade student, was one of the victims. She was in the front yard of her house after dinner when two people appeared and sprayed liquid in her face. An hour later she regained consciousness and found her braid next to her. Her uncle Rafiq Ahmad told ucanews.com that the girl was traumatized and could not sleep properly. "I could see the fear in her eyes," Ahmad said. "I wonder whether she will ever be able to come out of this shock". Psychiatrists have expressed concern about the incidents, saying they could cause long-lasting psychological disorders
, especially among children. "Post traumatic stress disorder has already taken a toll in Kashmir due to decades of bloodshed and mayhem," said Javaid Ahmad, a Kashmir psychiatrist. The state's chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, last week assured action would be taken to find the culprits. Police have set up a special investigation team and a reward of 600,000 rupees (US$9,200) gas been offered for information leading to arrests. One police official told ucanews.com that hysteria had led to innocent people being beaten up.
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A 70-year-old man was lynched by a mob on Oct. 6 on suspicion of chopping off a woman's braids.