An elderly man in India's restive Kashmir Valley was stoned to death on suspicion that he was the mysterious braid-chopper who has spread panic in the entire northern belt.
Several incidents have been reported in the past few months in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and national capital New Delhi, where several women have found their braids have been chopped while they were asleep or unconscious.
A 60-year-old Dalit (lower caste) woman became the first victim of mass hysteria caused because of the repeated braid-chopping incidents. The woman, who people suspected to be the culprit, was lynched in early August.
Nearly 100 braid-chopping incidents had emerged within two to three weeks.
The latest victim of rumours linked to the still-unresolved mystery was Abdul Salam Wani, 70, from Kashmir's Anantnag district.
He was pelted with stones by a man in Danter village when he was returning home from a mosque after night prayers. Residents of the village said the heavily bruised Wani was rushed to a hospital, but succumbed to his injuries on the way.
Police in the district, however, said they were not aware of any such incident. "We have not received any complaint or report about the incident," a police official told the Press Trust of India.
A villager told the news agency that they did not report the matter to police because "it was an accident".
A police spokesman from the area told the news agency that the mass hysteria has endangered the lives of many people in the recent past. A young boy was lynched in the Delina area of Baramulla district in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this week on suspicion that he was a braid chopper, the policeman said.
He added that a transgender person was recently rescued by police when a mob tried to lynch the person in connection with the braid-chopping incidents.