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Nocturnal predator whips up mass hysteria in UP

Lucknow, Aug. 23: Scientists at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, say they are “balls of lighting that often fall on earth during dry spells”. Lucknow University zoologists say they are Dune Crickets, a predatory insect from south India that migrated north due to climatic changes and the late arrival of monsoon. Police officials such as Faizabad deputy inspector general K.N.D. Dwivedi considers them to be the handiwork of anti-national elements.

But panic-stricken villagers of Uttar Pradesh attribute recent attacks by the luminous unidentified flying objects they call muhnochwa to the devil himself. “Yeh shaitan ka kaam hai (It’s the Devil’s handiwork),” says Raghuraj Pal of Shanwa village in Jaunpur, whose neighbour, Ramji Pal, died recently after being attacked one night by the mysterious flying object. “His stomach was ripped open. He died two days later,” says a stunned Raghuraj.

Villagers in this impoverished region say a flying spherical object, emitting red and blue light, hones in on their homes at night. Seven people have died of unexplained injuries in the past week alone. Some have been burnt while others have suffered scratches and surface wounds, inflicted while they were sleeping.

In Darra village, Kalawati, 53, says the blisters on her blackened forearms were the result of an attack last week. “The muhnochwa (the word literally means face scratcher) was like a big soccer ball with sparkling lights. It burned my skin and I can’t sleep from the pain,” she said.

The state administration, desperate for an answer to he mystery, has turned to experts in Kanpur IIT and other scientific institutions. However, the villages are in the grip of a mass hysteria and rumour-mongers are having a field day spreading all sorts of stories. As a consequence, villagers now attack any stranger at the slightest suspicion and over a dozen people have been killed in different parts of the state.

Quite often, the police are at the receiving end of their frustrations and wrath. Policemen in Barabanki were forced to fire on a panic-stricken mob demanding action against the muhnochwa last Friday, killing one person.

Earlier, on August 14, local residents of Sultanpur district clashed with the police while an irate mob beat up a policeman in Satrikh police station on August 10.

On a few occasions, the mass hysteria has taken on communal overtones. In Khurdmau village of Hardoi, an irate mob set ablaze shops belonging to members of particular community, accusing them of sending the mysterious creature. Similar clashes were reported from Sitapur, Unnao and Faizabad districts.

While most victims of the muhnochwa have described it as a ball of light flying in the sky, others have described it as a winged insect with sparkling eyes. Some villagers have described it as a fire-spitting ogre, but authorities do not place much credence to these descriptions. The police have sent the carcass of one such insect to zoology experts in the Lucknow University.

“We have sufficient reasons to believe that the injuries on the faces of victims were caused by nothing other than these lighting balls, which range from the size of a tennis ball to a football,” says Ravindra Arora of the electrical engineering department at IIT. “Dry spells increase the soil resistance while decreasing the earth’s conductivity, and in the process attract lightning balls that emit different colour lights – mostly blue, green, yellow or red,”

“Some scientists say it is the plasma state of gas, while others attribute it to a slowly burning gas... radiation from long-lived meta stable state of air particles or a sphere of heated air at atmospheric pressure – an air vortex (like smoke rings) that contains luminous gases,” Arora says. “But in all cases, people can see a ball-like object travelling sideways in the air that can produce up to 100 watts of current and emit red, blue, yellow or green lights.”

The fireball causes burns when it comes in contact with the human skin, while it extinguishes on falling over non-living objects, the IIT expert pointed out. He attributed the panic to superstitious beliefs of the rural population in these parts of the country. “The menace would end with the onset of monsoon,” he predicted.

Lucknow University zoologists have come up with a different theory. “This insect, known as schzodactlus monstrosis can cause superficial scratches on the human body it crawls on. It has a pair of compound eyes on two lateral sides of its head which can reflect colourful lights when a torchlight is thrown on it,” said Omkar of Lucknow University.

Another team of scientists feels the mysterious UFO is energy particles falling on the earth from outer space. “They have assumed the shape of big circles due to the excessive heat and humidity,” said a member of the team after touring the affected districts of Allahabad, Mirzapur and Chandauli and talking to over three dozen muhnochwa victims.

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