- A mysterious flying object said to attack sleeping villagers
has sparked mass hysteria and rioting across the north Indian state of
- Police shot dead one man and injured 12 others when a
mob of hundreds stormed the police station in Barabanki, demanding protection
against what they believe is an alien assailant terrorising villages.
- The object, described as a flying sphere emitting red
and blue light, is said to strike in the middle of the night, leaving victims
with burns or scratches on their faces and limbs, and earning it the name
the muhnochwa (face-scratcher).
- At least seven unexplained deaths in the area have been
attributed to the muhnochwa, sparking panic among villagers who blame police
for not providing enough protection.
- Officials have suggested a raft of explanations, from
an alien invasion to a new and unknown breed of insect.
- Perhaps the most bizarre theory was that of Police Deputy
Inspector General K. N. D. Dwivedi, who said that the assailant was a genetically
engineered insect introduced by 'anti-national elements' from outside India
to cause mayhem.
- In common Indian parlance, this is taken to mean that
it was the work of the Pakistani spy agency, the universal scapegoat for
all unexplained Indian woes. That theory has not won over many believers.
- Villagers across the region no longer sleep outside,
as they usually do during the sweltering summer heat and long power failures,
fearing that they will be easy prey for the muhnochwa.
- In some villages the entire population are squeezing
into the headmanís house for the night, seeking shelter and safety
- Having lost faith in the police, villagers have formed
nocturnal protection squads.
- In Shanwa village, where the attacks are said to have
started, men patrol all night, banging drums and shouting slogans to frighten
off intruders, such as: ìEveryone be alert. Attackers beware.î
- Residents have dismantled television aerials and taken
satellite dishes down from their roofs, fearing that they may attract the
mysterious object. Even radios have fallen silent at night under selfimposed
- The Times of India reported that the national intelligence
bureau was sufficiently concerned to send its own agents, like Mulder and
Scully from televisionís X-Files, to investigate the ìalienî
- After listening to villagersí descriptions of
the muhnochwa, the agents constructed their own replica from the base of
a mixer-grinder, fitted with coloured lights, and hoisted it onto a pole
in an attempt to entice the extraterrestrial. Then they waited.
- At 1.05am they were rewarded with a flash of light ìlike
a photocopierî, which repeated three times. A videotape was said
to show a flash of light passing across the screen. The agents concluded
that the villagers were right and that they were indeed experiencing an
- Local doctors, however, have dismissed the phenomenon
as mass hysteria, saying that most of the injuries have been self-inflicted
by panicked villagers, evoking memories of the ìmonkey manî
hysteria in Delhi last year.
- At least three people died jumping from roofs and dozens
more were injured during the mystery simian's two-week reign of terror
before officials dismissed it as a mass delusion and sightings petered