With braid-chopping instances making an appearance in the city too, we delve into what causes mass hysteria in the country and how it spreads...
Imagine waking up one fine morning to a chunk of your hair, ruthlessly chopped off, and lying on the floor. As many as 90 such bizarre cases have been reported across the country since June. After a spate of such instances in the Northern part of the country, Mumbai has seen three different braid-chopping cases now.
It would seem like this phenomenon is spreading through the country, with women from states like Gujarat and Rajasthan too reporting cases of their hair being cut off with them being unaware of it.
Here in the city, one instance speaks about a woman, who was reportedly combing her tresses, when she experienced a headache. After a subsequent blackout, she woke up to realise her hair had been cut. While various investigations haven’t been able to pinpoint the truth just yet, instances of this mysterious ‘hair-chopper’ on the prowl seem to have caused mass hysteria across India. Also known as collective or group hysteria, it occurs when a large number of people, thanks to fear or rumours, experience a collective illusion.
“We all have a way of identifying what other people are going through and believe what they believe,” offers Priyanka Mahajan, psychiatrist at Masina Hospital, as an explanation. “When you take part in unnatural or frenzied actions due to a press from your subconscious, it’s called hysteria. When it spreads like it has now, we call it mass hysteria.”
Counselling psychologist Kinjal Pandya explains that in a country like India, when it comes to creating this mass hysteria, fear is the main ingredient. “In our society, fear is very much a part of our social fabric. It’s contributing to this phenomeno,” she says.
She lists the 2001 Monkeyman incident as something that was born out of this group hysteria.
In the latter incident, residents of Delhi had complained of a monkey-like man, who allegedly terrorised, bit and scratched people before eventually disappearing. The rumours ended up being so close to the truth, that two men in the capital even died as they tried to escape the creature. Adds Kinjal, “People will never want to find out what’s actually happening. Instead, they would rather believe a rumour instead of being rational.”
Priyanka opines that in the case of braid-chopping, the victims have been women, who have been under constant domestic stress. She says, “Most times, these women are in a state of dissociation. What these women are doing is chopping off their own hair — consciously or subconsciously unaware of it — perhaps in their sleep. These are mostly women from lower income backgrounds, with minds that are more malleable. And they’re likely to believe in something like this.”
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Hozefa Bhinderawala adds that more than superstition, such cases can be blamed on to people with malicious intent. “This case isn’t about the mentally disturbed. It’s mostly done by people who have sound minds but have malicious intent.”