The Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday arrested a 45-year-old alleged occultist, who had convinced a 17-year-old girl to cut off her hair braid in Gorakhpur. The police said the accused was arrested for allegedly contributing to the “rumours about a mysterious braid chopper” that are circulating in the region.

The accused has been identified as Chandrabhan Das, an alleged occult practitioner in Machligaon village. On Wednesday, one of villagers had asked Das to cure his 17-year-old daughter of some undiagnosed illness that caused her to faint often.

Das allegedly asked the girl to cut her hair if she wanted to be cured and she complied. The change in her appearance then sparked rumours that she was the latest victim of the so-called braid chopper, the police said.

Multiple reports of women’s braids being cut

There have been several reports across Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the past week of women complaining about their hair being mysteriously cut while they were asleep. The Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday issued an advisory instructing district-level police officers to warn people in their jurisdiction about the rumours.

The circular, which was sent to all police stations and offices of senior officers, came a day after a Dalit woman in a village near Agra was beaten to death by her neighbours. The police said the villagers had accused her of being a witch involved in the hair cutting mystery. The Gurugram Police had issued a similar advisory on Tuesday.

Counter measures by the police

The advisory from the Uttar Pradesh Police asked police officers to start WhatsApp and social media campaigns to counter the spread of what it described as rumours. “There is no organised gang involved in spreading this rumour,” said a senior officer from the police headquarters in Lucknow.

“We appeal to the people to report such rumours to the police and not take law in their own hands either on the basis of such rumours or to punish rumour mongers,” said Additional Superintendent of Police (DGP Office) Rahul Srivastav.

Officers have also been asked to crack down on people spreading misinformation about the case on social media.