The recent monster-inspired panic in India has historical precedents, such as Spring-Heeled Jack, but has been more dangerous than most of them.
Descriptions of the Monkey Man of India, first mentioned in police calls on May 13, 2001, have shown little consistency. So far, some described the entity as having a metal claw or claws, while others likened it to a cat with glowing eyes. Another claimed it had flaming red eyes and that green lights glowed upon its chest. These descriptions were but a few among many.
Whether the creature that so many feared was like a monkey is a matter of dispute. Witness claims also described it as agile and feline, as a bandaged figure, or as a helmeted thing.
Even more unusual theories made it out to be a foreign robot assassin. A thirty-five-year-old shopkeeper named Anim Keshri thought it to be a remote-controlled computerized creature -- since how else could it leap four stories and disappear?
During May, dozens of individuals were said to have been hurt in its attacks, and two took fatal leaps because they heard the "monster" was nearby. In daily newspapers, photos of scratched victims upset New Delhi residents.
Early during the flap, on the night of May 14, fifty attacks were reported, according to the May 17 edition of The Australian. (Numbers vary widely in news reports.) The scare had at this point moved from its origins in Ghaziabad to a number of areas in East Delhi.
Early May 15, at 2:30 A.M., a pregnant woman in East Delhi fell down some stairs after being awakened by the shouts of neighbors saying that the monkey had arrived. She died in a hospital, having been one of the two aformentioned jumping fatalities. That same night (late Monday/early Tuesday), police received 13 distress calls from the New Usmanpur area.
As of May 17, police in Delhi had taken more than 40 -- perhaps as many as 65 according to other accounts -- calls reporting depredations of this alleged Monkey Man since May 13, from many sections of the city.
Third World Tensions
Contributing to the situation were three factors that afflict Third World cities in particular: the presence of many illiterate and superstitious rural immigrants, a modern mass media, and a high population density. These added to the elements that could inflame imaginations in the hot darkness.
"Jokes" increased the tension. In Nangloi, a rat bite was claimed to be the work of the Monkey Man. (That surely must have left everyone laughing.)
One doctor was arrested on May 19 after having scared his neighbors by throwing down an inflated surgical glove which had been smeared with brown hair dye.
A senior police officer of the Delhi police, quoted in the Daily Pioneer circa May 16, said, "The whole drama was very carefully enacted by the anti-social elements who wanted to test the nerves of the Delhi Police." They blamed this alleged sabotage on Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, for whom the "mischief mongers" were reportedly causing the terror.
A nine-year-old named Arjun Bajaj believes the Monkey Man is a black-masked fellow with springs in his shoes -- and a button which he uses to vanish. Bajaj admits to thinking that perhaps the first one was the doctor with the glove, but is frightened of others like him.
Elements of Legend
It seems probable that elements of the mace-equipped Hindu monkey god of legend, Hanuman, have found their way into the public's conceptions because of his monkey elements -- with his mace being related to the metal claw of the alleged Monkey Man. Other contributing factors include sleeping outdoors, heat, darkness, crowding and fearfulness, which combine to increase the panic. Suresh Roy, police Joint Commissioner in Delhi, spoke to ABCNEWS.com about how seriously the resultant injuries had to be taken. Police have been posted on rooftops, areas have been kept well lit from dusk to dawn despite the routine power cuts, and border checks have been instituted at the city's points of entry. Public meetings have also been organized. What is more, Delhi police have been told to shoot the Monkey Man on sight.
Roy told the Reuters news agency that bites attributed to the thing were actually animal bites, according to consulted physicians.
Two "identikit" portraits that have been made of the "entity" are not really monkey-like, as one shows a staring hairy "man" with a swarthy complexion and flat nose, while the other one shows a narrow-faced, mustached "man" in dark glasses.
But if the being is a man, "he" is a short one, about four feet tall. "He" does not act like a monkey. Real monkeys have, of course, jumped on pedestrians and invaded homes, but have not attacked in the manner of the entity reported in Delhi.
In all this confusion, false identifications have been made. A four-foot-tall wandering Hindu mystic named Jamir was beaten up by residents of the nearby suburb of Noida, before being handed over to police.
A van driver in Delhi was set upon and given multiple fractures in the early A.M. hours of Friday, May 18, by people who thought him to be the Monkey Man.
Three thousand extra men in Delhi were assigned by police, as of May 21, to track down the Monkey Man. Police also offered a reward equaling $1,065 U.S. dollars (in rupees) for the creature's capture.
The terror has spread beyond that city, but with a difference.
Villagers in Assam have been terrorized by a wolflike Bear Man. As of May 27, more than a dozen people claimed they were attacked by it. The creature is alleged to make itself invisible before its attacks, and it is said to vanish when trapped in a ray of light. (There were power outages in Assam as well.) The Army, after investigation, could not substantiate any of these peoples' claims. The Assam Science Society, likewise, dismissed any such creature's existence in the district.
Kalyan Chakravarty, the Deputy Commissioner in Assam, noted the fueling of the panic by the Delhi Monkey Man stories. The Indian Express newspaper reported that villagers in the Nalbari district have, like their Delhi counterparts, organized watch groups.
Explanations abound. Nirmal Ghosh, in the May 23 Straits Times, writes about how the Monkey Man appeared to be a combination of much of what frightens people: its eyes were red and glowed, it could alter its shape, it was strong and agile, and it could see in the darkness -- it was thus a mixture of beast, criminal and supernatural being. Things were out of control for those who thought they saw it, because of their conditions of poverty, and this only increased their anxieties.
Whatever the explanation(s), the beast seems amazingly malleable and, indeed, prolific. One Delhi resident spoke how it was a monkey until it turned into a cat when grabbed. (It was, of course, likely a feline in the first place.) One criminal took advantage of the situation. He wore a mask so that witnesses would think that he was just one more Monkey Man.
What could well have started as some monkeys in Ghaziabad may have later been abetted, like in the above case, by humans. By May 23, 324 police complaints had been received in Delhi, of which 260 were discovered to be hoaxes. By that time, officers considered the Monkey Man to be a man, not any other creature.
What can one make of all the entire situation? In the May 25 Wall Street Journal -- Europe, Lionel Tiger, a Rutgers professor of anthropology, comments that the Monkey Man taps into something also resonant with Westerners -- "a deep vein of interest in the ghoulish and disastrous...." Life is a risk, whether one lives in India or the United States. Tiger notes how Western fears of cloning and genetically modified foodstuffs tap into the fear of possible genetically altered humans, which Tiger calls "monkey-men of our own devising."
Paul Cropper, in his e-mailed "Weird Crypto-Stuff 2001: Monkey Man Mania!" (May 17, 2001), writes, "My own take on the Indian material is that it will turn out to be a case of mass hysteria, fuelled by rumour, fear, pranksters and a few New Delhi monkeys...."
These monkeys may have appeared taller than they were -- seeming up to three or four feet tall under the circumstances.
Kenneth Wright, in a piece titled "On the Trail of an Uncanny Creature" in The Herald of May 23, wonders if the "mass hysteria" was as mass as it was purported to be: "No-one wants to be the only chap on the street who hasn't seen what all his neighbours have." Wright compares the Monkey Man with 1800s London's Spring-Heeled Jack, an alleged Victorian jumping semi-humanoid often said to have breathed fire and who was reportedly witnessed by reputable people.
Lest one judge other societies too harshly, Wright writes about communal irrationality being prevalent in the West, as witness the popularity of dubious "alternative medicines" and the recent bright idea of investing pension funds in Internet start-ups.
Sources: Times of India, 5/14/01, 5/20/01; 5/25/01; ABCNEWS.com, 5/16/01; CNN.com, 5/16/01; The Hindu, 5/16/01 and 5/17/01; Independent, 5/16/01; Reuters News Service, 5/16/01; The Australian, 5/17/01; Courier Mail (Queensland), 5/17/01; Washington Post, 5/21/01; ChannelNewsAsia, 5/23/01; The Herald, 5/23/01; Straits Times, 5/23/01; Wall Street Journal -- Europe, 5/25/01; India Express News Service, 5/26/01 (Guwahati); Ananova News Service, 5/27/01; also The Daily Pioneer circa 5/16/01, and Paul Cropper's Weird Crypto-Stuff.
Has the Monkey Man story been fed by a person or persons who wish to publicize their own plight by seizing on a report of a fortean event, then amplifying descriptions of further "assaults" to draw government attention?
We know that the initial Monkey Man attacks occurred at night in an overpopulated East Delhi "resettlement colony" where people routinely slept in the streets and neighborhoods were dark due to unrepaired street lights. Aggressive monkeys also roamed these areas. These neighborhoods had their water shut off for 23 hours each day, so the seeds of crime and social discontent were very much in place. It is possible that an unusual criminal event completely unrelated to politics (possibly the "magician in a rickshaw" incident), occurred in this dark place, then as the "rumors/mass hysteria/delusion" began to take hold, a host of imitators were spawned; pranksters, persons of malicious intent (Japan is currently experiencing a series of "Pandaman" murders with the perpetrator wearing a Panda mask), and possibly some who simply saw an opportunity to get the lights turned on. Indian officials' "anti-social elements" may have included "grassroots" social activists. Organized tactic or not, and at the cost of two lives, the street lights of Shanti Mohallah are on, and buckets of water are plentiful. This may be the first time in history that fortean phenomena -- genuine, error, or hoax -- has resulted in improved social services.
1. Hindustan Times, 16 May 2001.
2. Mainichi Shimbun, 2 May 2001.
3. Daily Pioneer, 16 May 2001, 20 May 2001.
4. Times of India, 17 May 2001, 19 May 2001.