When former president Pranab Mukherji visited Vrindavan in November 2016, langurs had to be hired to shoo away the monkeys, recalled Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan. For days, the locals watched in amusement as the langurs tried to chase away the monkeys.
According to the locals, there is a certain herd mentality even among the monkeys. "Earlier, they would be satisfied with a biscuit or a piece of bread, but lately they have acquired a taste for juices. They are always lookng for packaged juices," says Rakesh who, with his sister Janki, helps visitors to Kosi Ghat find their lost items -- for a consideration. Things like spectacles and purses are thrown away by the simians in the bushes from where the siblings retrieve them.
In Kosi, there have been several protests. In Mathura and Vrindavan too, many of those who had been injured had complained against the monkeys which seem to be outnumbering the visitors and pilgrims. "Due to religious beliefs, no one wants to harm the monkeys, though the vegetable sellers in the area keep catapults ready with stones which the monkeys fear the most," said Kunj Bihari, a Vrindavan resident.
Every shrine has dozens and dozens of the primates who have learnt to become aggressive over the years. For the pilgrims -- especially women and children -- negotiating their way through the lanes was always a bit difficult with cows and stray dogs everywhere. Now the simian menace has made it more troubling.
Nandan Das, another resident of Vrindavan, says that "monkeys can attack humans, but we cannot kill or shoot them." Many residents said they had complained to forest department officials in the area to no avail. An official from the department, who did not want to be named, said: "We have no funds for these activities. Moreover, when you can't kill the monkeys where would you keep them?"
Residents in the area say the monkeys move around on the terrace of houses in large numbers, often uprooting flowers in the pots. Women and children often come under attack from them. From dawn, they start by jumping from one terrace to another with many of them moving towards the riverfront steps where pilgrims congregate. The return in the evening is equally menacing.
Says Mathura resident Anand Agarwal: "In Goverdhan, they hang around along the parikrama route in large numbers and around the Mansi Ganga holy pond. In Vrindavan, there's hardly a lane without the armies of simians."
Social activists Madhu Mangal says the simian problem got compounded after a ban was imposed on export of monkeys for research. "Hundreds of people are bitten by monkeys and stray dogs but the hospitals in the area rarely have adequate supplies of anti-rabies vaccines."
Acharya Sri, a resident of Vrindavan, said that till a few years ago the monkeys were caught and sent to the Terai region on a regular basis. "But then some animal rights activists protested and the practice was stopped", he said.
Naresh Kadian, an animal rights activist and president of the Animal Welfare Party says that since the primates cannot be killed, they should be captured and released in the jungles. "Birth control is the answer. The monkeys have to be sterilised," Kadian told IANS.
Mathura district officials said provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 had to be taken into account. And without a clear-cut directive from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, they say, it was not possible to take any initiative. None was willing to come on record.
Vaibhav Agarwal says his hometown Vrindavan alone has over 20,000 monkeys and their numbers are increasing rapidly. "This problem has to be urgently addressed," he says.
But who will bell the cat...or the monkeys?
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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