Low floor buses may have made commuting a more pleasant experience, but these buses are also serving as hunting grounds for gangs of women pickpockets who prey almost exclusively on women passengers.
While all routes are susceptible to these gangs, the TR-2, SR-8 and SR-5 routes are ones in which these gangs are spotted rather frequently. "The SR-8 buses cover the most distance and hence are always crowded. They are the ideal 'workplace' for any pickpocket. Most incidents of theft occur after 8.30 pm when all the office-goers head back home. I was witness to such an incident a week ago but unfortunately the culprit managed to flee," said Narendra Deoria, resident of Ashok Garden area.
Pickpockets have been a menace on Bhopal buses for a long time now. But what is of grave concern is that there are new thieves on the block, with newer techniques and specific target groups.
If you are onboard SR-8 (Bittan Market to MP Nagar) or SR-2 (from New Market to MP Nagar) you will often spot a group of women carrying canvas bags. They operate in groups of 3-4 and almost exclusively target women passengers. Their modus operandi is simple; they crowd around the target and when she is shielded
As it travels across most part of the city, the bus is usually jam packed with commuters.
Buses on this route again cover a large part of the city and hence remain crowded most of the time. From fellow passengers' eyes, one of them quickly pinches her wallet. Handbags dangling from the shoulders or backpacks slung over the back are an open invitation to these thieves.
"I was on my way to MP Nagar two weeks ago. I remember three women hovering around me. They were not talking to each other but were crowding around me even though the bus was quite empty. I got down at my stop and later realised that my wallet was gone,” said Namrata Gupta, owner of a grocery store at Bittan Market.
“Yes, there is definitely a gang of female pickpockets operating on this route. Once they got on to my bus. They paid Rs. 10 for a journey that cost Rs. 8 and did not even ask for their money back. I found this behaviour very suspicious and kept an eye on them. Not surprisingly, once they saw I was on to them they got down before their stop in a huff,” Ravindra, a bus conductor on route SR-5, told HT.
Most bus drivers HT interacted with at the Jawahar Chowk depot agreed that there are female pickpockets operating on certain city bus routes. “These women are definitely in a gang as they are always seen in groups of three. A few faces have become familiar, so whenever I spot them I ask my conductor not to let them in,” said one bus-driver on route SR-8.
SK Damle, SHO of Habibganj police station, told HT: “We have police personnel in uniform as well as civil clothes posted at various places to nab thieves. The number of such incidents has definitely come down.” But in the same breath he added that they register almost two-three cases of pickpocketing every week. Not a small figure by any standards considering that similar figures are reported at MP Nagar as well as Hanumanganj police stations. Also while travelling on several city buses over the course of several days in order to probe the menace of pickpockets, this correspondent did not spot any police personnel nearby.
When asked about the new phenomenon of women pickpockets, Damle denied having any knowledge. Gulab Singh, a bus driver on route SR-8, had an explanation for this: “Even if they (women pickpockets) are caught, they are not handed over to the police but are let off after a warning because they are women. No one wants to drag women to the police station.”