NEW DELHI, Reuters
Vigilante mobs have taken to the streets of the Indian capital to track down a mysterious “monkey man” blamed for attacks in which dozens of people have been bitten and clawed.
Police in New Delhi said on Friday they suspected that the attacks, which have unleashed a wave of panic across the city, were the work of a gang of trouble makers.
“It’s definitely not one person,” Joint Commissioner of Police Suresh Roy told Reuters on Friday. “Events seem to be happening at different places at the same time so it could be a number of mischief-makers who have formed a small gang.”
Newspapers said three people had now panicked and fallen to their death from buildings in the past week because they were convinced that the creature was pursuing them.
The Tribune said the latest victim leapt from the roof of a three-story building where he and a friend had been sleeping on Wednesday night.
On Thursday police offered a reward of 50,000 rupees (US$1,063) for information leading to the capture of the “monkey man”, which they now believe is not an animal, and set up a special team to solve the puzzle.
But television news reports said that many of the city’s residents were taking the matter into their own hands, trawling the streets at night armed with hockey sticks and batons.
Star News said one frenzied mob caught and beat a man in the east of the city, only to discover that he was an innocent bystander.
Roy said the police were trying to quash the collective “fear psychosis” which has gripped some suburbs of the sprawling city and said rumor-peddlers would be dealt with harshly.
On Thursday night, the police received 80 calls from people saying they had seen the “monkey man”, but most were hoaxes. Only three people had injuries to show for alleged attacks.
Accounts of what the attacker looks like have varied wildly.
Some said it had a metallic claw, others said it was like a cat with tawny glowing eyes and one said it had “flaming red eyes and green lights glowing in its chest.”
Monkeys run wild in and around New Delhi, sometimes pouncing on unsuspecting pedestrians and entering houses. But Roy said victims’ accounts pointed to a human being.
Sanal Edamaruku of the Indian Rationalist Association said this week that the “monkey man” was a product of mass delusion.
“The recent panic… could well be totally baseless and nothing but a hallucination of groups of people with a tendency to hysterical psychosis,” he said.
But a group called the National Human Rights Council said it would be holding a religious ceremony in the heart of New Delhi on Saturday to pray for the city’s release from the clutches of the ape-like menace.