We have met the enemy and he is … rhesus?
With apologies to Walt Kelly (the cartoonist who penned the iconic “We have met the enemy and he is us.) and a nod to French novelist Pierre Boulle (author of La Planète des Singes) and American filmmaker Franklin J. Schaffner (director of the novel-inspired “Planet of the Apes”), we bring the terrifying and potentially dystopic news from India about a rogue gang of rhesus monkeys which used bricks to brutally attack a man. Is this the beginning of the end? Art becoming life? Are we living in the original or a sequel?
India’s The Statesman and numerous other media outlets report the sad story of Dharampal Singh. On October 18th, the 72-year-old resident of Baghpat in the far northern and densely populated Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was gathering wood for a havan – a Hindu ritual ceremony which requires a fire – when he was attacked by a large group of rhesus monkeys perched above him in a tree and on a run-down house. In this case, “attacked” means pummeled with bricks from the house until Dharampal had to be rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
"Monkeys threw more than 20 bricks at Dharampal on Thursday. He was hit on the head, chest and legs.”
Krishnapal Singh, the brother of poor Dharampal, gave that report to the police who immediately rounded up the monkeys, set bail at a million dollars and pronounced the deadly simian crime wave over.
Ha ha! Not in India! Dharampal’s family demanded that a First Information Report – India’s form of a police report – be filed with the monkeys named as the murderers of their relative. Unfortunately, that’s not how the police investigators saw it. They reported the incident as an accident where bricks from the dilapidated building next to where Dharampal was gathering wood inadvertently fell on him when a monkey jumped from the tree to a ledge.
Doghat police station officer (Doghat is the local district, not a uniform description) Chitwan Singh spoke for cops around the world when he issued this statement:
"How can we register the case against monkeys? This will make us a laughing stock. I don't think it is a logical demand."
Not logical … but perhaps inevitable. The rhesus macaque has the widest geographic range of any nonhuman primate and is becoming a problem in many areas. Rhesus monkeys escaping from laboratories or homes where they were kept as pets have formed large feral colonies in Florida. But no area suffers more under their presence than India, where on average 1,000 people are bitten every day by one of the country’s 50 million monkeys. (Why can’t they do something productive like band together and attempt to type a novel?) In 2007, the deputy mayor of Delhi died after being attacked by monkeys and in 2018 a rhesus allegedly broke into a house and kidnapped a baby who was later found dead in a well. A murderous spree like this would demand action in any other country, but the rhesus is a sacred creature there and protected as such. The monkeys have probably developed an attitude as well due to how much they’ve helped humans in lab experiments, blood studies (the Rh in blood types stands for Rhesus) and space exploration (first monkey in space was a Rhesus).
Did poor Dharampal die in vain? Probably. Is his death yet another sign of the rise of the apes against humanity? It’s possible, at least in India – they’re intelligent, they have the numbers, they have religious and civil protection and they’re learning how to use more tools. Have they made the jump to tools as weapons? Will the next "Planet of the Apes" sequel be a documentary?
Only if they learn how to make movies too.