Delhi’s unsafe streets: Snatching incidents leave survivors scared and scarred

·5-min read

New Delhi, Mar 23 (PTI) The city records more than 20 incidents of snatchings a day, seemingly random incidents of mobiles being yanked from people’s hands and chains from their necks that leave victims traumatised and fearful for months and sometimes even years later.

Snatchings may not figure very high in the crime spectrum but they do point to increasingly unsafe streets with many citizens questioning the effectiveness of those who police the streets. The scars stay on, even when the physical injuries fade, say men and women who have survived snatching attempts and watched their attackers flee.

With the recent incident of snatchers stabbing to death a woman who resisted their robbery bid in northwest Delhi’s Adarsh Nagar, the fears have exacerbated.

Anam Javed, who works at a leading government hospital in the city, still trembles when she recalls her experience with snatchers in early February. She was travelling in an auto-rickshaw when two men on a scooter pulled off her chain in Delhi Gate in central Delhi. It was around 6 pm and still light.

“I was supposed to take a cab but it didn’t come, so I took an auto-rickshaw instead. I had just left Daryaganj on the way to my PG (paying guest) accommodation in south Delhi. My auto was moving with speed when two men riding a Scooty suddenly came near me and snatched my phone near the Delhi Gate area,” Javed said.

“They first tried to snatch my bag strapped across my shoulder and I was dragged to the edge of the seat, almost to the point where I could have fallen off the vehicle. They got hold of my phone and sped away,” she added.

The 25-year-old from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh had finished her master’s degree from Jamia Millia Islamia in December 2020, and lost volumes of key documents and photographs stored in her smartphone.

Her attackers were wearing masks but not helmets.

“I was numb and traumatised. My relatives later took me to the police station and an FIR was lodged. I haven’t got my phone back, and my faith in the policing system has since been shaken. Many times, when I go out for work or even otherwise, the incident comes back to haunt me” she said.

According to Delhi Police, the number of snatching cases in 2020 went up by 27.11 per cent from 2019 with 7,965 such cases registered last year as against 6,266 in 2019.

Journalist Kunal Dutt had a similar experience in early March and said he is still in shock.

On March 2, three motorcycle-borne men snatched his mobile phone from a moving auto-rickshaw on a busy flyover in south Delhi.

“It has been so many days. But there is still no headway in the case. I now feel afraid to ride an auto-rickshaw, and am always looking over my shoulders. I feel apprehensive all the time,” he said.

Many others share the same experience, of losing their belongings, managing to escape with no serious injuries but dealing with the trauma of being attacked, often in a crowded area, for days, weeks and months after the incident.

A cashier at a PSU bank in Delhi, said on condition of anonymity, that he has survived such attempts twice, both times while he was in a moving auto-rickshaw. The first was during the lockdown when the streets were not so crowded and the second time in February. “My grip on the phone was strong, they couldn’t snatch it both times,” he said.

The modus operandi is often identical.

On September 22, 2019, a woman journalist said she was attacked by two men on a bike and was dragged out of a moving auto-rickshaw and robbed. She had to be taken to a hospital as she was seriously injured in the attack.

A 19-year-old man and his associates were later apprehended in connection with the case and the phone was recovered, police said. Delhi Police suspended three officers for unsatisfactory investigations into this case.

Anushree Fadnavis, who was working as a photojournalist, underwent a similar experience in 2018 and remembers vividly how it all happened.

“My mobile phone was snatched while I was in a moving auto-rickhshaw in a street near the New Delhi railway station. The two men were riding a bike and the number plate was folded.” The details of the February 27 incident when a 25-year-old woman was knifed and died while resisting a chain-snatching bid Adarsh Nagar area have led to fresh fears. Simran Kaur was returning home from the market along with her two-year-old daughter and mother when the incident occurred around 9:30 pm.

CCTV footage of the incident went viral on social media. Two persons were arrested in connection with the case, police had said.

The streets of Delhi emptied out in March last year when the country went into lockdown to stave off COVID-19. But snatchings, as police figures indicate, did not stop.

“We do intense patrolling in order to increase our presence to curb the street crime. The random and surprised picket checking during the peak hours is another way to curb the street crime. We are always concerned about the safety and security of the citizens,' a senior police officer said.

Delhi’s citizens call for safer streets, more surveillance and CCTV cameras.

“After my own shocking experience, I keep hearing of chain-snatching cases, and how helpless people feel. There should be more stringent laws to curb snatching, CCTV cameras should be installed in all streets and public places Criminals should live in fear, not citizens,” said Javed. PTI KND AMP NIT MIN MIN