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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Passionate Crimes | Tales From Past

The passage of time has not reduced offenses caused by greed for a luxurious lifestyle...

The murder of two jewellers of Dariba Kalan(June 2014, Delhi), in separate incidents recently, is the continuation of an old pattern of crime which can be traced to the 18th Century. During the reign of Mohammad Shah the court jeweller Sukh Karan had complained that whenever he returned late after partying with the dandy Emperor at the Red Fort he found young men following his palanquin in a bid to waylay him and rob the ornaments he wore. One of them was caught at his instance by the Kotwal who, on interrogating him, learnt that he and his accomplices were fond of going to the dancing girls who entertained customers according to the money or gifts given by them. Rabia Jaan, the best considered dancer, had become so rich that she did not acknowledge the presence of notes unless they offered gold or diamond jewellery.

A bullion merchant, whose wife had died in child-birth, was a frequent visitor and every night he had some precious gift or other to present to her. One night Kishore Johri, as he was known, was surprised to find a boozed customer putting a necklace at the feet of the dancing girl. His shock was greater when he discovered that the necklace was the one stolen from his shop a week back. He flew into a rage and caught the man by his throat saying, “Confess that you stole this from my shop, you ruffian”. The accused drew a knife and stabbed the Seth but his flabby stomach cushioned the blow, and with the help of some others he managed to wrest the knife and pin the man down. 

Sukh Karan (the one whose mobbing on March 8, 1729 became a cause celebre in the shoe-sellers’ riot) informed Mohammad Shah Rangila of the incident, who sent for Rabia and forced her to confess after three days of bare-body flagellation, that she had three boxes of jewellery, mostly stolen from Dariba and Chandni Chowk by her admirers, who made up for lack of riches by stealing ornaments on moonless nights after bribing the pahari chowkidars. Always in need of money as he was, the Emperor confiscated the boxes by sending his men to Chawri Bazar and the hapless Rabia, facing the threat of jail, was only too glad to join the royal harem and entertain Mohammad Shah every night at the Rang Mahal in Delhi.

This is based on oral history, but to quote old records, the treatise, “Delhi Between Two Empires” states: “A common stereotype in late 19th Century officialese in Britain and in India of the criminal and dangerous classes afforded an explanation for the spate of petty crime in the city in years most noticeable between 1867 and 1874. The targets were the Chandni Chowk and Dariba shops, and bankers, merchants and pensioners.” The treatise goes on to say, “One major reason for the spate of crime was that the city gates were not always closed as they had been before 1857… During the period when the railway line was being constructed, access to the city was very easy …. After 1857 the “kuchabandi” or locking off one mohalla from another at night had been prohibited, and this also made for insecurity … and the paucity of policemen in mohallas made things easy for pickpockets (and other criminals). There was great wealth in the hands of many wholesale merchants, who had hoarded grain in the years of famine.” Naturally they were targeted by the criminals.

The safest period for Dariba and its environs was between the 1950s and 1970s, according to a jeweller who wanted to remain anonymous. The Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi not only curbed political dissent but also criminal elements. However, from the late 1980s up to now bullion shops have been the target of criminals (mostly youngsters out of job and trying to compete with those better off by buying cars and property with bank loans which are never repaid) he disclosed. “It is not surprising that stealing diamond, gold and silver jewellery is on the increase, as it seems the easiest crime to commit, along with looting of ATMs,” the Seth said. No wonder shops in Dariba and Chandni Chowk, despite their Nepali chowkidars, are often burgled. And now it is evident that criminals are becoming even bolder and committing robberies in the day too. Quite a few incidents of jewellers being attacked have been reported. The two who lost their lives were the more unfortunate ones. The new Rabias, said another jeweller, do not live in kothas but in posh colonies, where their admirers offer family or ill-gotten wealth to please them.” Probably a case of history repeating itself!

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  1. Passionate crimes involving jewellery theft....Thanks for sharing :)


    1. You're welcome..Such cases happen even in present times...

  2. Hugely entertaining article. : ) It reminded me of the archived newspaper articles from the British era, which used to be published in the TOI, many years back. They used to tell such stories among others.

    On a more serious note, while crime has always been part of society, the British seemed to have little idea or interest in containing crime, the way erstwhile local rulers did. Modern cities do not have any restrictions on movement within their perimeters or across their borders. They are therefore more vulnerable to crime.

    1. Interesting views Radhika..
      There was a difference in the roles of British Raj , when compared to the local rulers.. The former were more or less concerned with the revenue, and the latter were required to deal with the law and order situation, in early modern India...The executive legislations and other transformations came after the abolition of East India Company's regime via Queen Victoria's Proclamation of 1858..