After the use of langurs was banned in 2012, monkey chaser Gul Khan and his extended family evolved their craft to tackle the simian menace.
Gul Khan (41) has an uncommon business card. It has photos of three rhesus monkeys and reads “Gul Khan, seasoned monkey chaser”. There is a phone number in the upper left corner and a note at the bottom that says, “Contact to chase monkeys away”.
Khan has been working as a professional monkey chaser in New Delhi for over three decades now. He has also trained his three brothers and about a dozen of his cousins in the business that they have elevated to the level of art. His skill is unique: he can drive monkeys away simply with his voice, which is his greatest tool and asset. “We guarantee to chase away monkeys anywhere, be it a five-star hotel, a school, or a government building,” said Khan in broken but fast-paced English that he picked up from foreigners as a child.
Earlier, langurs were commonly used in the city to deter rhesus monkeys, its natural enemy, from entering residential areas and public spaces. There was a time when Khan also used them. However, the Delhi government banned the use of langurs in 2012 following complaints of cruelty to the animal and the efforts of the then Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi. It also imposed a hefty fine on those using the animal for commercial purposes. Trained dogs, scare guns and electronic devices were tried out but they were largely inefficient.
“At that time, my elders and I voiced several of our concerns,” Khan said. “Kids from our community should have been given other work and education opportunities, but that never happened.”
After the ban, he, his brothers and cousins were all suddenly out of work. The langurs had to be released, and it was difficult to drive monkeys away without them. “The authorities asked us to hand over our langurs to them so they could put them in a zoo,” he said. “Instead, we decided to let them free in a nearby forest.”
Memories of his six langurs—Mangal Singh, Mangali, Lajwanti, Kundan Singh, Pawan, and Anjali—continue to haunt Khan almost a decade later. “I grew up with them, they were like my family,” he said. “We would play with them, eat with them. No matter what the financial situation at home, we would feed them first. We often borrowed money for their food. They were like our gods; it was because of them that we could earn an income. I miss them a lot.”
Khan then came up with an idea. “We have grown up with monkeys and langurs and know their nature. We trained ourselves to make the sounds of a langur. Slowly, we succeeded in chasing away monkeys without our langurs,” he said. Soon, the monkey chasing work picked up.
Khan makes high-pitched and sharp sounds to scare away monkeys. “Triooo! Oooo!” he screams, mimicking the sound of the langur, and the monkeys flee in seconds.
While rhesus monkeys and langurs are both primates, they belong to different families and have notable differences. Rhesus monkeys are known to be more mischievous and playful. Langurs, on the other hand, are more sedate and tend to spend more time resting and foraging.
Every day, Khan leaves his home in Khajuri Khas looking for places with a monkey problem and offers a solution. Men from his extended family are currently employed as monkey chasers in the most influential buildings in New Delhi, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministries of Finance, Commerce and External Affairs, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the NITI Aayog building.
Monkeys have terrorised the PMO, destroyed records at the Home Ministry, and caused havoc at former Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s official residence—all situated in the Lutyens zone, known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, imposing government buildings, and grand residences. In fact, the issue even made it to the Aam Aadmi Party manifesto before the Municipal Corporation of Delhi election in 2022.
Abdul Khan, one of Gul Khan’s cousins, said, “There isn’t too much money in this. It’s an unusual career for sure, but there is respect.” They are only paid as per the Delhi government’s rate for daily wage work, which is currently Rs.643 a day for eight hours of duty.
The destruction of forests to facilitate the spread of urbanisation has brought rhesus monkeys into the city in search of food and water. While there is no official information on the number of monkeys in the city, it is estimated at around 20,000.
The simians are notorious for stealing food, attacking people, and destroying property, which has resulted in significant disruption to life and, occasionally, severe injuries. The government has experimented, unsuccessfully, with a number of ways to manage the primate population, including sterilisation, relocation, and culling.
Shashwat Bhardwaj, advocate in the Delhi High Court, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the court in January pointing to the increase in the monkey population in the capital and in the number of monkey bite cases. The matter will be heard in May.
Speaking to Frontline, Bhardwaj said that he had closely witnessed the monkey menace in the Delhi High Court premises. “Not only do monkeys snatch food from people, they are also a serious threat to their life and safety.”
Hesaid that in March 2022 the Supreme Court floated tenders to recruit “monkey scarers” and deploy them close to the residential bungalows of judges. Further, he claimed that the issue had been severely mismanaged by the Delhi government.
“It is shocking to note that despite the Central Government sanctioning Rs.5.43 crore to Delhi’s Forest Department in January 2019 for sterilisation of 8,000 monkeys in the first year of its three-year plan, not a single monkey has been sterilised,” he claimed.
“Animal lovers with misplaced sympathies have aggravated the problem by feeding the rhesus and bonnet macaques because they believe them to be descendants of Lord Hanuman,” Bhardwaj added.
- Gul Khan has been working as a professional monkey chaser in New Delhi for over three decades now; he has also trained his three brothers and cousins in the business that they have elevated to the level of art.
- Khan’s skill is unique: he can drive monkeys away simply with his voice, which is his greatest tool and asset. “We guarantee to chase away monkeys anywhere, a five-star hotel, a school, or a government building,” said Khan.
- Monkeys have terrorised the PMO, destroyed records at the Home Ministry, and caused havoc at former Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s official residence.
- Earlier, langurs were used in the city to deter rhesus monkeys, its natural enemy, from entering residential areas but the government banned their use in 2012.
In the early 2000s, Gul Khan chanced upon a police officer named Rajinder who saw his family’s langur as a possible solution to the monkey menace. “He told me that the officials in the External Affairs Ministry are fed up with monkeys,” Khan said. “The next day, I took my langur to the Ministry and managed to shoo the monkeys away immediately. Everyone was impressed, and I was asked to start working there as a monkey chaser.”
For over 20 years, Khan has been in the business. “It is an unstable job. There are no fixed timings. Sometimes, we are called in the middle of the night too and we have no choice but to go. When there are no monkeys to chase away, we even lose the day’s wages. And it is also dangerous.”
But he believes the job has brought him and his community respect in society. “When my father used to do street shows, anyone could talk down to him or ask him to go away. But here, they need us. We are no longer chased away as unwanted people. It feels good to serve those who are serving the country and working towards the development of the nation,” he said.
Khan understands monkeys like no one else does. “Just like humans, the monkeys also have a pradhan (head),” he said. “They also have informers. They recognise us monkey chasers. If we skip one day, one of the monkeys will inform the other monkeys and all of them would just come out to attack. The news travels fast with them.” Further, he said that monkeys were very smart animals who could recognise monkey chasers by their body language and smell.
“The trick is to create fear in the monkeys and not hurt them, scare them enough so they don’t cause destruction or panic,” he said.
Despite the risks involved, Khan is confident that the monkeys will never harm him. He smiled and said, “Monkeys by their very nature are clumsy animals. The only time they remain silent is when they are sleeping. On the other hand, langurs are calm and reserved. They don’t like much noise and don’t create any panic.”
Soon after he got his first monkey chaser assignment, Khan started scanning newspapers for reports on the monkey menace. “Once, I read a newspaper clipping about Kasturba Gandhi Hospital being under the grip of naughty monkeys,” he said. “Often, patients were bitten by the monkeys. Even the doctors were having a tough time. I went there and offered my services. They readily accepted.”
After about a decade of chasing monkeys at the External Affairs Ministry, he started taking on other work. He now does contract work too. “I could work at multiple places, as per the need. It meant more money, so I could educate my kids,” he said. The income varied, sometimes Rs.100 a day, while on others even Rs.1,000 a day.
Khan has five daughters and two sons, both of whom are training to become monkey chasers. But Khan does not want this life for his sons. “I do not want my kids to do this. They should study, they should succeed, and set up something of their own. I only studied till class V, but I ensured that my elder son studied till class XII,” he said.
He wants all his children to go to school. He said, “But the boys should also learn from me how to chase away monkeys. This is our tradition. We are good at it. They should know it so that they have something to fall back on.”
Two of his daughters are going to school and are also taking a beautician course. For them, Khan has been a harbinger of change. “Earlier, girls from our community were not sent to school. But now, we want to educate our girls too. We want our entire community to be uplifted, and what’s better than education to do that?” he said.
Khan belongs to the Qalandar caste, a Muslim ethnic group found in parts of north India, Pakistan and the Terai region of Nepal, which traces its origins to the devotees of Sufi saint Bu Ali Shah Qalandar, who now rests in a shrine in Haryana.
In 2009, Khan moved out of the slums of Paharganj, where he and his family had lived for generations. He finally had enough money to buy a small plot in the Khajuri Khas area to build a small house. “Life has changed. We used to live in slums, now we have our own house. It is small, but it is ours,” he said about his 40-square-foot house that he shares with his three brothers and their families.