Woman Branded Witch, Killed In UP Amid 'Braid Cutting' Scare


62-year-old woman was beaten to death in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Agra

Agra:  A 62-year-old woman was beaten to death in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Agra early on Wednesday morning by villagers who accused her of being a witch, the police said. The villagers, they said, alleged that the woman was about to cut the hair of a young girl sleeping outside her home.

The woman, Maan Devi, had reportedly gone to the fields to relieve herself very early in the morning and while returning home she was attacked. The girl spotted Maan Devi, who wore a white sari, and raised an alarm, the police said.

"My mother begged them to spare her, saying she was not a witch, but they did not listen," her son Gulab Singh said. A murder case has been filed against two neighbours, who are absconding.

Across at least three states, several women have in the past few weeks complained to the police about bizarre attacks in which their braided hair has been "mysteriously" cut while they have been asleep or have fallen unconscious.

After a 17-year-old in western UP's Ferozabad said her braid had been cut off while she was asleep, there is panic in villages in the area, with residents alleging that a "witch" is cutting the hair of women. The girl in Ferozabad said she woke up to find her chopped braid lying by her side. At least four to five such cases have been reported in the state so far.

In the Mewat region, where Haryana and Rajasthan converge, there have been at least 15 complaints in the last two weeks, the police said, of women's hair being cut. Most of them claimed they fell unconscious and discovered, when they came to, that their braids had been cut.

Villagers, the police said, have blamed "ghosts, witches and 'cat-like' creatures." A woman in Gurgaon, adjacent to national capital Delhi, told the police that she had encountered a godman in "red and yellow clothes and with a trident" outside her home minutes before she lost consciousness and her hair was cut off.

"When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying on the floor and my braid was chopped off," the terrified woman told cops, adding that nothing was stolen from her home.

The police have sought to re-assure people, saying they suspect that gangs of anti-social elements are behind the bizarre attacks, aimed at frightening villagers and disturbing peace.

"We have issued an advisory to all District Magistrates and other senior police officers  to act against those spreading rumours . We have also asked district officials to go to villages and use village level administrators to quell these rumours," Anand Kumar, a senior cop in Uttar Pradesh, said.

"What we are getting to know is that these incidents seem to be the handiwork of local anti-social elements," he said.  

In Haryana, women have been advised to tie their hair in buns and in many villages, have stopped going out alone to fetch water or for other chores. In Uttar Pradesh, the doors of homes have been coloured vermilion, "to ward off evil" the police said.

The rumours and panic is being compared to the "monkey man" hysteria in Delhi and neighbouring areas in 2001, when people alleged that a short creature that looked like a monkey was attacking them.

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