Rampaging monkeys become election issue in India
The issue of rampaging monkeys may seem a curious priority for voters taking part in state elections on Thursday in India's eastern state of Bihar.
The state is one of the poorest in the country and over the years has acquired a reputation for lawlessness, caste-based violence and corruption.
But the menace - in the form of rhesus monkeys - is indeed the main issue for 10,000 voters in the village of Chainpur.
They say that about 500 monkeys - in several groups - have made their life hell over the past three years.'Paupers'
The monkeys trample their seasonal crops, break mud roof tiles and steal grain from stores and meals from kitchens.
The problem has become so acute that farmers have to stand guard around the clock to protect their crops in shifts.
"We've become paupers over the last three years and have to fight against monkeys for our survival," said Madan Mohan Jha, a farmer in his 60s.
The villagers are frustrated because the Wildlife Act prohibits them from killing monkeys, while state government officials are unable or unwilling to shoo them away.
They say that they have no choice but to arm themselves with sling shots and sticks to keep the marauding monkeys out.
Although the Chainpur constituency is the worst affected by the problem, surrounding villages like Teghra, Dholi, Parri, Bangaon and Mohanpur have also been hit by the monkey menace.
In all it is estimated that more than 50,000 people in two assembly constituencies of the Saharsha area are affected.
The villagers say that they have been protesting for the past three years to get the problem resolved - demonstrators have blocked roads and held protest marches.
They have even have formed the Free Monkey Campaign Committee (Bandar Mukti Abhiyan Samiti) to co-ordinate their protests.
Saharsha legislator Sanjiv Jha has raised the issue twice in the state assembly - but because monkeys are not such a problem in other parts of the state so far he has succeeded only in earning the derisive epithet "bandar haka" (one who shoos away monkeys) from other representatives.'Chalk out a plan'
But it is no laughing matter for Chainpur villagers, who have now coined slogans to air their single most important grievance loud and clear.
"Shoo away monkeys and get our vote… Only he who scares away monkeys gets our vote," they chant.
The villagers are hoping that at least one of the main election candidates could visit their village and promise to address the problem in return for their votes.
So far few politicians have given them much attention, with the exception of independent candidate Kishore Kumar Munna.
"I'll personally visit the village and chalk out a plan along with them to shoo away the monkeys. Yes, the monkeys have really become an issue in their lives and I'll address this problem," he told the BBC.
Saharsha goes to the polls on Thursday as part of the first phase of six rounds of elections.