Posted on: November 1, 2013

Back in 2001 the city of New Delhi, India, had its very own equivalent of SpringHeeled Jack running around. The Monkey Man Scare is now generally regarded as a classic case of mass hysteria.

During the scorching hot month of May rumours began to spread of a strange creature which appeared at night-time and attacked people. The creature was said to be 4ft tall (although some reports had him at 8ft, a bit of a difference), with glowing red eyes, and wearing a helmet. No two reports of the creature seemed to be alike.

Like his Victorian equivalent in the London of the 1830s, the Monkey Man was able to leap great distances from building to building. The creature always appeared between the hours of midnight and 4 AM, and was said to take random bites out of people. Over the course of the next 2 weeks, the city became gripped by the legend of the Monkey Man, even though no hard evidence for his existence was ever found, (in spite of the police offering up a sizeable reward), and doctors treating victims of his attacks dismised the wounds as either superficial or self-inflicted. One bite was clearly shown to have been committed by a rat.

Things reached a dangerous pitch. On the 15th a pregnant woman fell to her death down a staircase, fleeing in terror after hearing her neighbours shouting about the Monkey Man. People armed themselves with sticks and went after the creature. Harmless passers-by, including a spiritual guru, were attacked, and one poor man was dragged out of his van and beaten to death.

The furore gradually began to calm down, and one eyewitness described the whole thing as “two weeks of mass delusion and panic”. The Indian Journal Of Medical Sciences studied the case, and concluded that witnesses to the creature were all largely young males, belonging to “low social-economic strata and having low educational level”.

The Monkey Man is a fascinating case of mass hysteria, and it’s similarities to the English legend of SpringHeeled Jack (which still occasionally surfaces here) are startling. Who started the story of the Monkey Man? And how did this improbable tale get such a grip on the public psyche? One journalist said “No one wants to be the only chap in the street who hasn’t seen what all his neighbours have”. That sums it up pretty well. When a story gets a grip, however far-fetched it is, it can be every bit as contagious as an infectious disease.



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