At least 10 people have been killed — stabbed or shot dead — in as many incidents of snatching reported this year till August from different parts of the Capital, incidents that show a growing desperation among those involved in what is known as the gateway crime, according to colloquial data.
The data also shows that in at least 12 other incidents this year victims suffered serious injuries while trying to fend off the snatchers, resisting their bid to take away cell phones and bags.
To be sure, the Delhi Police said that they do not maintain separate data on street crimes in which people lost their lives or were injured. In fact, police statistics show that fewer cases of robbery and snatching reported till August 15 this year compared to the two previous years.
According to official data, the city police registered 4,922 snatching and 1,028 robbery cases till August 15 this year. During the corresponding period last year, the city recorded 5,671 snatching and 1,336 robbery cases, shows data. In 2021, the cases under the two crime heads stood at 5,108 and 1,264 respectively.
According to experts, the growing violence in street crimes is a cause for concern.They said while many of those involved in street crimes such as snatching are mostly first-time offenders, the use of firearms and knives by them to attack their shows a growing desperation which is a dangerous sign.
Retired IPS officer Suvashish Choudhary said the growing use of violence by criminals show lack of deterrence. “Even the preventive steps by the police are not proving a deterrent. The police arrest snatchers and send them to jail. They are booked under Indian Penal Code’s sections 356 and 379, the maximum punishment under which is not more than three years. The snatchers get bail from courts as most of the times the victims turn hostile or choose to stay away from court proceedings,” said Choudhary, who retired from the Delhi Police as a joint commissioner.
To keep a check on these violent criminals, Choudhary said the police should rope in personnel who have vast knowledge of about active snatchers and robbers. “A specialised team of such personnel should be formed at each police station to handle and curb such cases. Patrolling and picket checking, specially in vulnerable areas should also be enhanced,” the officer said.
In less than a week, at least three incidents highlight the grave problem. A 26-year-old woman was seriously injured while fighting off snatchers in Sultanpuri on Sunday night; a 50-year-old man was stabbed to death and a 49-year-old Indian Army officer was injured while fighting off robbers at two different places in south Delhi.
In the first 21 days of August, the city witnessed at least five snatching and robberies in which two people, including a 70-year-old, were stabbed to death while seven others were injured, four of them seriously. The injured people included two working women –24-year-old private school teacher, Yovika Chowdhary, whose nose was fractured after she fell of a moving auto-rickshaw trying to hold on to her iPhone in south Delhi’s Saket, and 23-year-old Samreen Malik who fractured her leg and suffered injuries to her head when the snatcher pulled her down from the parked scooter by putting a cloth around her neck before fleeing with her iPhone on the Outer Ring Road near Burari flyover in north Delhi. Both cases were solved with the arrest of the alleged accused and the stolen iPhones were recovered from them.
Experts say that the police data does not reflect the real dimension of the problem because several snatching cases end up being registered as simple theft. This, they add, ignores two important aspects – first, unlike simple theft, snatching is an important indicator of the citizens’ safety on the streets, and secondly, it glosses over the trauma that a victim of snatching goes through.
Former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Ashok Chand, who retired from the Delhi Police as additional commissioner believes that the practise of suppressing cases to keep the crime statistics under control leads to criminals going berserk.
“In my opinion, all crimes should be converted into FIRs to reflect the situation on the ground. Preventive measures such as increased police patrolling and constant vigil can only be devised only when the ground reality is known,” Chand said.
On being asked about the reasons behind the violent street crimes and the strategies they are adopting to curb such cases, the Delhi Police said, “Statistically, there has not been an increase in murders in the city and there is slight decrease in robbery and snatching incidents. However, all out efforts are being made to further curb such crimes. District-wise strategies on prevention and detection are in place.”