By Prateek Goyal
Chain-snatching criminals have done what even some of the worst criminals in the country have failed to achieve: coordination among police officials of different states. While chain-snatching is generally considered a crime committed by locals, what has caused this coordinated effort by the states’ police force is the highly professional network of alleged chain-snatchers from the lesser-known ‘Irani’ community spread across the country.
In order to curb the rising menace of chain-snatchers belonging to Irani community operating in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, a WhatsApp group of interstate crime branches has been formed by the Pune police. This group comprises crime branch officers of Pune, Bengaluru, Bhopal and 20 other crime units of Maharashtra.
The Iranis have their origins in the Balochistan desert which is spread across Pakistan and Iran. They were nomads and migrated to India in the 16th century. Irani community initially used to live near railway stations and bus depots. Now they have settlements in Maharashtra at Ambwali, Mumbra, Rasheed compound in Thane, Sangola in Beed and Sangli; in Karnataka at Bidar, Bangalore, Hubli, Dharwad; in Andhra Pradesh at Hindupur, Madanapalle and Guntakal; and, Jaora and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Bidar is said to be their largest settlement.
Gang-members from the community are known to operate as chain-snatchers and even pose as policemen to rob people.
The prime objective behind the formation of the WhatsApp group is to nab the Irani chain-snatching gangs who are working in coordination in all these states. An interstate conference was held in Pune in November 2015, in which it was decided to form a group of interstate crime branches to exchange information on offenders. A second conference on the same lines was held in Pune on Tuesday in which police officials of Karnataka and Maharashtra took part.
Rajendra Joshi, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Crime), Pune Police said, “To form a coordination group is the need of the hour as Irani gangs are operating in coordination in Pune, Bangalore and Bhopal as well as the other part of these states. There have been incidents where Irani chain-snatchers from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and Parli Vaijnath in Marathwada region have set up meetings with each other in Maharashtra, committed crime and then parted ways.”
The standard operating procedure followed by police to catch the chain-snatchers is implemented in four phases. First, an exchange of information about offenders with the local beat marshals is done which is followed by raids and arrests in Irani settlements as per the information gathered. The cops keep a vigil on offenders released from jail and finally they coordinate with crime units within and outside the state and exchange information.
According to information provided by senior cops of Bangalore and Pune, the situation is graver in Karnataka as compared to Maharashtra. SK Umesh, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Vijaynagar subdivision, and also an expert on Irani gangs said, “These gangs don’t have any boundaries, and they operate from Madhya Pradesh to Karnataka. Their strength is their settlements across various cities and the coordination between them. It is hard to believe but we have cases where chain-snatchers from Bhopal are coming to Bangalore and escaped after committing the crime with the help of their local partners. They are such good riders that they can even change their shirts while riding their bikes after a chain-snatching incident and can be immediately ready for the next offence without fear of being caught because of their appearance.”
Umesh said that these gangs are taking advantage of geographical road maps of Bangalore and are escaping through ring roads in the city. Their areas of operation are Yelahanka, Vijaynagar, Vidyaranyapura, Mahalaxmi layout, Chandra layout and JP Nagar. All these areas are connected to NH-4 using which they escape easily from the city.
“Coordination between them across states is their strength and in order to counter them we have formed a group of crime branch officials of cities where these people have settlements. With the help of this WhatsApp group, we are sharing information on these criminals which is quite helpful in nabbing them,” said Umesh.
According to the Bengaluru police, 150 chain-snatching incidents are taking place in Bangalore every year on an average, but there has been a sharp rise in these incidents in the last two months. On an average, 7 chain-snatching incidents are reported in the city every hour.
The police say they are also wary of the rising violence against them by the Irani community women during raids. Umesh said, “Whenever police go to catch any offenders, police officials are often attacked by Irani women living in the settlement. They create ruckus in the area and attack policemen with stones, chilli powder and other objects. They have even started using iron batons to attack the police.”
Seeing the rising number of crimes committed by Irani gangs, Karnataka police is planning to book them under KCOCA (Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act ) in the same way as Maharashtra police has booked many Irani chain-snatchers under MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act).
According to a police constable in Pune who has been working to nab Irani gangs for the last 10 years, the Iranis' foray into crime has taken place in the last few years. “Some 20 years ago, these people were not involved in such criminal activities. They used to sell artificial pearls, sunglasses and toys on footpaths and earn their livelihood.”
“These people don’t commit crime in their own area, a person from Pune will go to Bangalore or Bidar. Their modus operandi is to first form a team with their partners in different cities. Local partners help them with routes; they enter the city on bikes and are always accompanied by a four-wheeler which waits for them on highways. They hire young boys from their area to drive the vehicle and pay them Rs 1,000 as the day’s fare. Local partners ride the bikes in the city and the ones from outside the city ride pillion to snatch chains. After committing the act, they get to the highway and escape in their four-wheeler,” he said.
“It’s not that the whole community is indulging in chain-snatching, but many of them have made this their profession,” the constable added.