Hysteria over the "grease devil" urban legend is causing riots in Sri LankaS

Over the course of August, Sri Lanka's countryside has been whipped into a mass hysteria by an urban legend known as "the grease devil." Rumors of these supernatural prowlers have rural townspeople attacking suspected grease devils, and people are dying as a result.

The panic over these nocturnal creatures has gotten so bad that the military and police have been fighting grease-devil-chasing lynch mobs, and a police officer died yesterday in one such melee. Additionally, grease devil violence and accusations have racial and cultural components, as Sri Lanka's had many past hardships driven by ethnic conflict. Explains Reuters:

Traditionally, a grease devil was a thief who wore only underwear and covered his body in grease to make himself hard to grab, but the modern iteration has a far more sinister reputation as prowling attacker of women.

Five people have died in outbreaks of violence related to the grease devil panic so far, including Sunday's incident.

More than 30 incidents of violence and vigilantism have been reported in eight districts of the country, primarily in areas inhabited by minority Muslim or Tamil people as the government and opposition trade blame over the phenomenon. [...] The government has said "grease devils" are merely criminals taking advantage of traditional beliefs in spirits and devils in Sri Lanka's rural areas, and have vowed to punish those responsible for spreading panic about them.

To make matters worse, the panic's spread to Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo, and hospitals are being warned by angry citizens not to treat potential grease devils.

This incident has some parallels with a 2001 mass panic in India over an urban cryptid known as The Delhi Monkey Man. In that instance, paranoia over this simian urban prowler led to several accidental deaths and assaults on suspected Monkey Men. Another urban legend with a similar modus is Malaysia's Orang Minyak ("oily man"), a greasy demonic rapist.

Top photos of an alleged grease devil (who inexplicably looks like The Joker) via AllVoices. Hat tip to Laylowmoe.