Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The first cut is the deepest.

You know, life has a tendency to get you down. Whether it be worrying about family, health, wealth, relationships, or success and lack thereof. Whatever it may be sometimes it can all just get a bit too much. It happens to all of us once in a while. And, individually, we find ways to cope. Some of us blow off steam by hitting a bottle, or a psychotropic drug. Some of us blow off steam by immersing ourselves in television. Some of us find hobbies such as stamp collecting or building miniature rail road kits. Some of us just surround ourselves with people who happen to be available, hoping to live vicariously through them so we don't have to think about ourselves for a bit.

Me? I simply remind myself that I'm not a four foot tall Sadhu wandering around New Delhi.

Allow me to explain. Sadhus are religious men. Practitioners of yoga that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of liberation and a higher understanding of God by way of meditation. Which seems like a pretty sweet gig if you can actually make money at it (Gee note: Beats my idea of making a quick buck by dressing up as a large tomato and running around in circles. I'm not really sure how this would make money. It just sounds like a heck of a lot of fun).

So imagine the scene when in the summer of 2001 in the capital of India a four foot tall Sadhu, a tiny little holy man who wouldn't raise a clenched fist to a flea, was beaten half to death by an angry mob. Actually don't imagine it. Because I can pretty much guarantee that whatever scenario you can come up with it wouldn't be all that insane compared to what actually happened.

To begin at the beginning. On May 13th 2001 fifteen people checked in to a tertiary care teaching hospital in East Delhi suffering from scratches and abrasions. Now considering around 700 people check in to the same hospital every night you would think fifteen people with slight cuts wouldn't raise an eyebrow. But when each of these people tell you, quite seriously, that they were attacked by a monkey you might think twice.

But then, having said that, in East Delhi monkey attacks are relatively common. Not common enough for fifteen separate cases in one night, but as recently as last year over 40 cases of injury by primate were reported in Delhi alone.

So a rabid monkey hits down town Delhi and attacks some folks. “Big deal” I hear you cry. Well it is if the monkey isn't really a monkey. If it's a half monkey half man hybrid that runs on two legs and slashes with the claws on it's hands then people tend to sit up and take notice. And then tell other people about it.

That was the starting point. In the following fortnight a wave of calls flooded in to the Police Control Room in Central Delhi describing vicious attacks by a so called Monkey Man. Most reports were inconsistent, some claiming the Monkey Man had glowing red eyes (Gee note: Is it just me or do all monster's have red eyes? Isn't that racial stereotyping? “Yeah I seen one of 'em monsters. All red eyed and listening to that rap music. They'll be taking our jobs next, you mark my words.”) and sometimes a cape, or a metal helmet, or a glowing light on it's chest. And it could, depending on who was telling the story, squeal like a banshee or growl like a wolf.

Some reports also claimed that the Monkey Man could change shape.

But all of the reports shared one thing in common. The creature was vicious, slashing and biting it's way through the people of Delhi. This carnage was all taking place amidst one of the worst summer's in Indian history. A heat wave tortured the country, knocking the already ridiculously hot temperature up several notches. The usually stable power grid started to fail on a daily basis, plunging the city in to darkness every night. Add to this rumours spreading through the slums like wild fire of an evil beast rampaging through the streets and the combustible elements started to read like a “How To...” guide on starting a nation wide panic.

And panic they did. All in all 23,324 complaints were made to the Police. 397 individual reports were compiled from victims of Monkey Man related incidents. And at the end of the two week period three people had died, over two dozen more were injured and collectively the people of Delhi were scared out of their minds.

The Police responded by offering a reward of 50,000 rupees for any information leading to the capture of the Monkey Man. They released an artist's impression to local newspapers (Gee note: As you can see, Cat Stevens better have a damn good alibi as to where he was during the month of May 2001).

Flares were fired in to the air at night to illuminate darkened street corners. Politicians ordered extra electricity be routed to Delhi in order to curb the power cuts. Gangs of neighbourhood residents formed, ready to protect their communities.

And that's when our friend the Sadhu came to town.

The Sadhu was a hobo wanderer with no fixed abode. Dressed in traditional robes and covered with ceremonial paint his biggest crime was walking down the wrong street while all this chaos was unfolding around him. An already anxious bunch of overheated, terrified locals took one look at him, put two and two together, came up with 67, and proceeded to kick the holy living hell out of him before dragging the poor guy to the nearest police station and ordering the hapless officer behind the desk to arrest him.

And it didn't stop there. A 19 year old student was attacked by a group of twenty people in the North of the city. A man driving a white van had to speed away after a crowd of vigilantes began to throw bottles and chase him as he drove through the suburbs. A pregnant woman threw herself down a flight of stairs when a report of the Monkey Man being nearby caused a stampede. She died hours later in hospital as a result of her injuries. Two more people, both men in their early 20's, would suffer similar fates.

In short, Delhi was tearing itself apart.

The thing with mass hysteria is, well, it's insane. A retrospective report indicates that a large majority of those attacks, 28% of selected case studies, were reported by people with no formal education. 89% of the attacks were reported by people who earned less than £600 per annum. Of the 397 police reports 260 were proven hoaxes. And many of those admitted to hospital were suffering from domestic animal attacks, inflicted by regular household cats and dogs mainly.

Eventually the police caught on. As each new report came in claiming that the Monkey Man flew in through a window and mocked the victim's toupee, or the Monkey Man broke in downstairs and played Rolling Stones records really loud until 3am in the morning, an official Police spokesperson announced to the media that there was no such thing as the Monkey Man.

And with that it all stopped. No more hospital visits, no more calls to the police, no more vicious beatings of innocent bystanders. The local media started to breathlessly talk of “delusions on a massive scale” and before the rest of the world knew what to make of it, the whole thing was put to bed.

The sad thing is, because it happened in India, we in the West have a tendency to raise a smug smile to ourselves and take it for granted that we, with our public schools and our running water, would never get to the point where we started assaulting members of our own community because we were scared of “the bogeyman”. That's something that the people in the ghettos of India do. You know, those gullible fools who believe in statues drinking milk and all that. Idiots.

Well it should be pointed out that in July 2000 the British Sunday newspaper the News of The World, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, started a controversial campaign to “Name and shame” convicted paedophiles living in mainland Britain. Spurred on the by the widely reported death of Sarah Payne the paper ran a front page splash of pictures and names of people who were currently not wanted by police and had served their debt to society for any crimes they had committed.

But that didn't matter in the case of Iain Armstrong, Victor Terry, and Michael Horgan. After the News of The World went to print these three men were attacked, their homes vandalised, and their families threatened. A crowd of up to 300 people targeted Mr Armstrong outside his home in Bradford, While both Mr Horgan and Mr Terry were bombarded with hate mail campaigns.

Now some people may not necessarily have a problem with all this. After all they're paedophiles right? Those sick freaks deserve everything they get.

Except Iain Armstrong, a man who suffered from viral meningitis and a spinal disorder, Victor Terry, a 78 year old widower, and Michael Horgan, a family man and proud father of a six year old girl, weren't paedophiles. They were innocent men, victimised and attacked because they happened to share the same name as someone who had a criminal record. And while all this was going on a riot had broken out in the city of Portsmouth that lasted for, when it was all said and done, four whole days.

So before we all start to scoff at the naïve and uneducated Indians who got themselves in to a flap over a silly made up animal, it may be worth noting that only 11 months earlier the Monkey Man could be found at large in Britain.

It had just changed it's shape. That's all.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Hmm... glowing red eyes... cape... helmet...

Haven't we heard these exact characteristics before? Our good ol' friend Springheel Jack seems to fit the bill nicely. Oh, other than the whole 4' half-monkey stuff.