Mass Hysteria is a phenomenon in which a large group of people exhibit similar psychological or emotional symptoms or an incomprehensible event. It probably often occurs when a group of people collectively suffer from some kind of psychological stress and anxiety. In India it is not uncommon to come across incidences of mass hysteria. India’s cultural and religious multiplicity can often wrench a small rumor into a full-fledged mass hysteria. Here is a compilation of top 10 bizarre Indian cases of mass hysteria.
10. Foreigners Attacked from Mass Hysteria
In July of 1957 two American women were beaten black and blue by villagers after rumors went around in the village averring them to be kidnappers. The incident supposedly occurred in a village near New Delhi. Two American women, Ms. Alice McKinney and Ms. Dorothy Barbee were employees of the United States technical cooperation mission to India. The rumor gained fire as there had been a few kidnappings in the area recently. The women forgave the villagers and hoped that the authorities would not deal with villagers’ harshly.
9. Genital Retraction Syndrome
This is a psychological syndrome where the male members of the population believe that their penis will retract and disappear. The syndrome occurs worldwide with epidemics and mass hysteria of genital-shrinkage or disappearance has occurred throughout history in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Many cultures believe this condition to be fatal if left untreated. Psychosexual conflicts, personality factors, and cultural beliefs are considered possible causes for this belief. Forceful attempts by individual to prevent inevitable loss of their genitalia with apparatus like strings and shoelaces have led to injuries and even deaths. In 1982 this epidemic broke out in northeastern India where thousands of people were afflicted. Popular local remedy for this epidemic was to have the sufferer hold the affected body part tightly while he drank lime juice and was thoroughly soaked in cold water.
8. Chaddi-Baniyan Gang
In the early months of 2012, residents of Mumbai and Thane registered complaints against alleged Chaddi-Baniyan gang. The gang as the name suggests adorned just vests and shorts, entered people’s homes during broad daylight and attacked them only to abscond with their valuables. Even instances of pedestrians being attacked were reported. Many societies in Thane and Mumbai formed groups to patrol each night armed with bamboos, iron rods and clubs to nab the members of this notorious gang. This led to several innocent people being beaten black and blue by the vigilantes. Interestingly though there was a gang of robbers by the same name of Pardhi community who had similar modus operandi, but were caught by police long ago and were nowhere near the state of Maharashtra.
7. Tamil Nadu Vampire
In April of 2012, villagers from several villages in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu reported blood-sucking vampires (Ratha Kaatteri in Tamil) had been attacking their cattle and could harm them as well. The villages wore a deserted look after 6 p.m. and people confined themselves indoors. Due to some strange reasons, cattles in the villages were dying mysteriously one after the other. The villagers painted holy namam signs (pictured above) outside their homes and wrote messages on doors asking vampires to spare them. Members of Dravidar Kazhagam announced a reward of Rupees 1 lakh to anyone who could catch the alleged vampire and they believed it was a big hoax as anti-socials whose illegal night activities such as bootlegging and liquor brewing had been disturbed were spreading rumors and killing cattles.
6. Hysteria following MGR’s Death
In 1984, M.G. Ramachandran fell sick and was rushed to U.S. for treatment. Mass hysteria gripped Tamil Nadu as more than 100 people attempted self-immolation. MGR died on December 24, 1987 after his prolonged illness. His death sparked off an inexplicable frenzy of looting and rioting all over the state of Tamil Nadu. Shops, movie theaters, buses and other public and private property became the target of violence let loose all over the state. The situation escalated to such level that police had to resort to issuing shoot-at-sight orders, something seldom seen or heard of in democratic India. The violence during the funeral alone left 23 people dead and 47 police personnel badly wounded. This state of affairs continued for almost a month all over the state of Tamil Nadu, bringing normal life to a grinding halt and causing untold misery to millions.
In September of 2002, newspapers in Uttar Pradesh reported a mystery monster lusting for people’s flesh and blood. The monster was described by eyewitnesses as an unidentified flying object that scratches people’s faces. It had been named Muhnochwa (face-scratcher) by its victims. The reports mainly originated in nearly 100 villages in Balia-Ghaziabad belt of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Even the DIG of Faizabad could not resist his take on the mystery: the ‘muhnochwa’ was a “genetically-engineered, three-inch-long insect let loose by anti-national elements.” Other theories of the mystery involved UFOs and aliens. Locals got down to night patrols and vigils to grab this mystery monster. The fear of this eerie creature resulted in death through lynching of over half a dozen of people who were unlucky enough to be mistaken as muhnuchwa by the over-alert villagers. In all cases people saw a ball-like object emitting different colors and travelling sideways. IIT Kanpur submitted a report on the phenomenon saying it is a natural occurrence, also observed in other countries, created by severe dry spells leading to poor conductivity of the earth. The ball can produce about 100 watts of electricity and when it hits a person’s body, especially the face, it causes a burning sensation and rashes break out.
4. Delhi Onion Witch
In March of 2005 rumors began circulating about a witch that had been visiting homes in parts of Delhi and was behind the cause of several deaths. According to the rumors, a witch in the guise of a hungry woman rings the doorbell and asks for an onion. If she is given the onion, she cuts it in half and blood squirts out of it following which the onion donor dies instantly. These rumors were reported principally by the residents of Sagarpur area of Delhi. In another version of the story there were three witches doing the round of the area. Even the natural deaths in the area were attributed to her black magic. Homes in Sagarpur area were painted with maroon and yellow palm prints on the doors to ward off the evil witch.
3. Monkey-Man of Delhi
In May of 2001 residents of New Delhi reported a strange monkey-like creature that was appearing at night and attacking people. Reports alleged that it scratched its victims and bound out of sight into the darkness. Some said it was a monster with a black monkey face and human legs, possibly with coil springs on its feet or a robot invader with steel claws. Fear and loathing has gripped the residents of New Delhi. Eyewitnesses claimed the creature was about 5’6” and sported a helmet with red shining eyes. Description of the creature varied between witnesses. Theories on the nature of the Monkey Man ranged from an Avatar of the Hindu god Hanuman, to an Indian version of Bigfoot. In one instance a Hindu sadhu was beaten up by an angry mob, who mistook him for the Monkey Man. One woman, five-months pregnant, tripped in the dark and fell down the stairs from terrace and two men leapt off buildings when fleeing from their homes when neighbors announced that the monster was nearby. All died in the hospital from their injuries. Such sightings were also later reported in some cities of Uttar Pradesh.
2. Mumbai Sweet Seawater
In August of 2006, residents of Mumbai at 8 o’clock claimed that seawater near Mahim Creek had turned sweet. Mahim Creek is one of India’s most polluted creeks. Within hours, residents of Gujarat too claimed similar phenomenon at Teethal Beach. In few hours, people thronged to the beach near Mahim Creek to drink the sea water. In the aftermath of the incidents, local authorities feared possibility outbreak of severe water-borne diseases such as gastroenteritis. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board warned people not to drink the water, but despite this many people had collected it in bottles, even as plastic and rubbish had drifted by on the current. By 10:30 after the tides turned, people reported the water was less sweet and by 2 o’clock water was salty again.
1. Hindu Milk Miracle
Hindu Milk Miracle was a phenomenon witnessed on September 21, 1995 when it was reported that when a spoonful of milk was held up to the trunk of Ganesh statue, milk was said to disappear, supposedly taken in by the idol. By mid-morning, the word had spread to all parts of India and statues in temples throughout India reported similar phenomenon and by noon Hindu temples throughout the world reported the same. Hindus started queueing in front of even small temples in large numbers to offer milk to idols of Hindu gods. Demand for milk on that day alone sprung to more than 30% in some parts of India. By evening, news channels reported people experiencing similar phenomenon even with other household objects like spanners. Skeptics believe this to be a classic case of mass hysteria. Similar incidents came forward in August of 2006 and September of 2010, but these were limited to a small demographic.