Indian police have launched a probe into bizarre attacks on women, after dozens of victims reported waking up to find their hair cut off. Some of the victims believe supernatural beings sneaked into their homes.
Police urged people not to spread rumors about hair-cutting ghosts or witches, authorities said, after at least 55 women reported that someone attacked them while they were asleep or unconscious.
The victims usually find their cut off braids next to them upon waking up in their beds. One of the women said her braids were chopped off by a "black cat" that took the shape of a man, according to the Hindustan Times. Others reported the attacker to be an elderly man, while there are also those who say that a "witch doctor" was behind the incidents.
None of the victims has been robbed or harmed in the attacks, which were first reported two months ago. However, one 65-year-old woman was beaten to death by a mob in Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, after the locals accused her of being a witch and using spells to cut hair. The bizarre incidents continued after her death. Parents in some areas of the state kept their children indoors after school.
Most of the reports came from rural areas in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The state's western border passes through the suburbs outside the Indian capital of New Delhi.
Copycats and hysteria
The authorities were now "getting complaints from women about this unknown ghost" almost every day, according to police officer Manish Rakesh. Police were treating the assaults as crimes but have no leads thus far, another police official told the AFP news agency.
Medical experts warned against "mass hysteria."
"From all the available evidence, it seems the women are cutting their own hair either consciously or in an altered [state of mind], likely to seek attention," said Dr Sudhir Khandelwal, former head of the department of psychiatry at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
"When such a phenomenon happens, there is also a fear of missing out, so other people start copying the original incident," he was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying.
The latest raft of "braid chopping" stirred memories of a similar phenomenon in 2001, when dozens of people in the Delhi area started reporting attacks by a monstrous black monkey or a "monkey man." The incident prompted Delhi inhabitants to set overnight watches and traps for the attacker. While the incident was never completely cleared up, the police said that no animal was ever involved. Experts also described the event as mass hysteria.
dj/rc (AP, AFP)