Is It a Man? A Cat? A Ghost? Braid Chopping Brews Bizarre Theories
“Baal khule mat rakha karo, koi kaat dega (Don’t roam around with your hair open, somebody will cut it),” a middle-aged lady with long black hair warned us as we walked down Gali Number 4 of Veer Bazaar in South West Delhi’s Kapashera area.
What prompted the alert was a series of ‘choti-cutting’ incidents that have both confused and stunned the country.
The Quint travelled to Kapashera and Gurgaon’s Vishwa Mohalla to find three fresh cases of these unexplained haircuts.
What was the common thread in these cases?
A piercing headache, after which the women realised they had lost a portion of their long tresses.
Waking up to Chopped Hair
Kamla, 52, was sleeping with her husband and grandson on Wednesday night when she woke up panting, her head in her hands. After raising an alarm, she realised a portion of her hair had been chopped off.
“Did you feel anybody had entered the house?” we asked.
“That’s not possible. We keep all the doors locked,” she said as she showed us her remaining hair.
One gali away from her, 35-year-old Savita* also experienced something similar. “I was doing puja when my head felt heavy, after which I fainted,” she said. When she regained consciousness, she found herself in the hospital with her concerned husband looking over her.
Around 15 kilometres away in Gurgaon’s Vishwa Mohalla, 45-year-old Kamlesh used to call the ‘choti-cutting’ rumours rubbish. She became a victim on Tuesday.
Her brother, who stays in Rewari where similar cases had taken place, had discussed this with her only a few days ago.
With a pregnant daughter-in-law at home, she is now doing everything she can to keep her family safe.
Neem, Lemons, Chillies: How Locals Ward off the 'Evil Spirit'
As you enter Vishwa Mohalla, you are welcomed to a locality that has turned superstitious all at once.
All homes in the neighbourhood are adorned with branches of neem leaves, strings of lemon and chillies, and palm impressions.
“These neem leaves and lemons are a testimony of fear, what else? We don't sleep at night and my kids have fever now.” Amarvati Saini, who lives diagonally opposite to Kamlesh, said.
Suman (38), who has three kids, echoed similar fears:
The panic isn’t restricted to hanging charms, etc. outside their houses, but is also seeping into their everyday lives.
Women and girls have been taking caution and now prefer making hair buns over braids, leading to complaints from school teachers.
“Out of fear, we are now sending our girls to school with hair buns. Teachers get annoyed and say, ‘What is this? Please send the girls with braids, nothing has happened.’ The people who have not experienced this will say such things, but this has happened in my area so I know,” Suman said.
Chotu Ram, a 42-year-old OLA cab driver, said unease has gripped his children.
Another neighbour, who came to pacify Kamlesh, said her local milk-woman now opens her shop much later in the day out of fear. There are others who are now sleeping with knives in their hands to ensure they can defend their braids if needed.
At Kamla’s house in Kapashera, she keeps a piece of camphor tucked underneath her bed. “My daughter-in-law kept this thinking it will keep me safe,” she said, her voice laced with distress.
As she sat on the bed, surrounded by a group of ladies, she told us that she has also decided to not step out for a few days. “You might think these things (pointing to the camphor) show how backward we are, but this is all we know,” Saroj, Kamla’s 50-year-old neighbour said.
From Chemical Sprays to Evil Cats, Everyone Has a Theory
The panic has given way to several theories.
Kamla’s 40-year-old neighbour Santosh said these theories are spread by WhatsApp forwards.
“Some are saying the hair is being sold in the market by the kilo. In Gurgaon, some believe that a black cat who turns into a chudail is behind these attacks. In another case I heard that women are being branded with the trident (trishul) symbol. We don’t know what to believe anymore,” he said.
Similar theories are also brewing in Gurgaon. “A chudail comes and cuts people’s hair. She isn’t ever visible,” Kamlesh’s neighbour Amarvati said.
Another theory doing the rounds is that of a chemical spray. “There is a belief that when women go out, someone sprays their hair with chemicals. The effect of which is seen after 2-3 hours when the hair falls,” said Chotu Ram, who is a driver.
Narveer, Assistant Sub-Inspector of Gurgaon sector 5 police station, told us that when women come to them with complaints, they have no clue which Section of the IPC to categorise these incidents under, adding that it was the primary reason for not filing an FIR yet.
In Kapashera, forensic teams have been sent to investigate the matter. While the police are awaiting results they’re unsure what they will make of it.
“It could be a person, it could be hallucinating women, or it could be a gang. The theories are endless,” said a senior police official, requesting anonymity.
While there is confusion in the investigation, the fear on the ground is palpable.
“No one should lose their lives,” the middle-aged woman who warned us outside Kapashera’s Veer Bazaar in the morning said.
“Hair can be regrown, but you can’t say the same about a life.”
*name changed on request.
(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)