Mass hysteria, not black magic or any other supernatural activity is behind the recent spate in incidents of braid choppings reported from various parts of the country, suggest experts.
Recently, women from several states — Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi — have reported incidents of their hair being chopped when they were asleep or unconscious. In Delhi, cases have been reported from Najafgarh, Ranhola, Aman Vihar, Mangolpuri and Mundka.
A 60-year-old Dalit woman was also allegedly branded a witch and lynched on Wednesday in Agra for being the suspect.
“From all available evidence it seems that the women are cutting their own hair, either consciously or in an altered sensorium, likely to seek attention,” said Sudhir Khandelwal, former head of the department of psychiatry at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
And the Capital has had a history of such mass hysteria. “In 2001, people in Delhi had started reporting sightings of the kala bandar (black monkey). Some people even were injured while trying to capture or catch a glimpse of the so called monkey. There was a case of mass hysteria again when school children started fainting,” said Dr MS Bhatia, head of the department of psychiatry at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital.
Experts say the mass hysteria is just like women getting into a sort of trance after dancing, singing at religious events.
“Such hysteria is more commonly seen in women and the reason mostly is domestic stresses. They are usually in a dissociative state, so they may not be aware of what they are doing and might not have any memory of it later on,” said Dr Bhatia.
However, it is not uncommon for people to do it even consciously.
“When such a phenomenon starts happening, there is also a fear of missing out. So people often start copying the original incident,” said Dr Khandelwal.
He suggested that psychiatrists or psychologists should evaluate the women who have complained of their braids being chopped off. “Sometimes, these are not isolated incidents. The women, who have reported these incidents, might also have reported things like visions or possessions in the past, which suggests a chronic condition. These women would require counselling,” he said.
Experts also strongly suggested that the media not play up such incidents and carry interview of such women. “The innate desire of these women – consciously or unconsciously – is to seek attention and the media is providing just that. Once, they stop getting attention, the incident will stop being reported. It is just like a child stops crying when he notices that the parents are not paying attention,” said Dr Khandelwal.