We can’t give sweeping judgment that it is mass hysteria: Nayeema Mehjoor

Had the state authorities professionally handled the alleged braid cutting incidents at the beginning in Kashmir, the mysterious phenomenon wouldn’t have touched the alarming levels, chairperson State Women’s Commission (SWC), Nayeema Mehjoor, said on Friday.
“There is every possibility that a few cases of braid chopping would have been related to mental health in the beginning. Even a few cases suggest so even today. But the phenomenon has now gone out of control where criminals and other elements have joined in,” Mehjoor said.
Mental health experts who are probably the right people to explain away the phenomenon, but were never involved by the government till it became a major crisis, tend to agree with Mehjoor’s remarks.
“A few of the cases which came to fore in the beginning had some sort of history of mental illness,” a mental health expert said, pleading not to be named.
“But the problem has gone beyond that now. I recently came across a case where the window of a house was broken by unidentified persons, leading to panic in the family. How will you explain such cases?”
So far not a single alleged braid cutter has been arrested by police. But with each new incident both fear and confusion are on the rise. That the police have so far failed to come up with any concrete explanation for the incidents has not only put the government in the dock but reinforced the perception among people that state agencies were allegedly behind the incidents.
In a place like Kashmir, where decades-long conflict has taken a toll on mental health of the entire population, some incidents of braid chopping resulting from psychological distress cannot be totally ruled out, said the mental expert.
“But not every case can be explained away from purely mental perspective,” he said.
Vigilantism has reinforced fear among the masses, he added. A 70-year-old man was killed after a frightened youth flung a rock at him in Anantnag district. Many people suspected to be “braid choppers” turned out to be innocent civilians at the wrong place.
The SWC chairperson said she today asked the principal Government Medical College Srinagar to constitute a team comprising a senior psychiatrist, experts from forensic department and other fields to study the braid chopping cases.
“If there are cases of mental illness as claimed by the police and others then a psychiatrist should handle the case. Let them come to the conclusion what it is. We can’t give sweeping judgment that it is mass hysteria. There are anti-social elements and criminals and miscreants involved,” said Mehjoor
He said the team of the experts should give us report within four weeks so that the “next step can be taken”.
“I personally spoke to some mental health experts who told me that there can be some cases where mental health issues are involved but they have ruled this theory of mass hysteria,” she said.
“It is experts from psychiatry department who should bring the truth to the fore by examining all the cases. We can’t come up with a sweeping conclusion now. We should have taken these cases seriously in the beginning,” she said.
A senior government official said some cases of braid chopping were studied by experts at the SKIMS, Soura, and health department. She said in a few cases criminality has been established.
“Why is the government not talking about the outcome of those cases to take the investigation forward?” the official asked.