India women hair chopper
Braids of as many as 50 women in multiple Indian states are thought to be chopped offAhmad Masood/Reuters

As the mass hysteria over dozens of women losing their hair grips multiple northern Indian states, the panic has claimed its first fatality. A 60-year-old Dalit woman was lynched by a mob who suspected her to be the person behind the braid chopping incidents.

As many as 50 women in rural parts of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh have had their hair chopped off. The series of incidents taking place in the last few days has alarmed people in several areas.

The victim was identified as Maan Devi. According to multiple reports, Devi had lost her way and had mistakenly entered the nearby village, which is predominantly upper caste, in early hours of Wednesday (2 August). The villagers who spotted her presumed that she was there to chop the braids of women. Some of the nearby villages have also reported incidents of alleged braid chopping.

"My mother had gone out to the field but forgot her way home and entered a Baghel-dominated area, where she was killed. They said she had come to chop off the braids of women. She died on her way to hospital," said Manoj Jatav, son of Devi. Some local reports say the victim was 62 years old and allegedly had mental health problems.

Echoing a similar version, other family members have also said Devi was mistaken by the mob. "She pleaded that she had lost her way but they took as one responsible for chopping women hair in Mutnai village and killed her," Devi's daughter-in-law Kalpana Jatav alleged.

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Although the woman was taken to a nearby hospital, she succumbed to injuries caused by the attack.

Authorities are perplexed over the events, with some dismissing some of the episodes as mere rumours. Local reports have claimed that the incidents are caused by "phantom barbers", while rationalists say the incidents are an example of mass hysteria. Police are investigating the cases.

"There is no miracle or supernatural force behind all this," Sanal Edamaruku told the BBC Women who have reported these cases must be going through some internal psychological conflict."

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