They wore rag-tag clothes and appeared to spend their days eking out a living next to signal number seven in south Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave, begging for alms and living under a flyover.
But away from prying eyes, Ravi, 26 and Kadam, 24, amassed more than a lakh in cash and jewellery by allegedly breaking into houses in the area, police have said.
Their arrest in October has now sparked a first-of-its-kind crackdown on beggars and vagabonds in south Delhi, a move many say amounts to illegal profiling of the poor without proof.
In the first round of the exercise, at least 500 such people staying on footpaths and under flyovers will be taken to 16 police stations in the area, photographed and fingerprinted. More are likely to follow.
“It will help keep their activities in check and if they indulge in crime, they will be easy to trace. Previously we have found their involvement in petty theft and burglary,” said deputy commissioner of police (south), Ishwar Singh.
“It’s a step to curb the crime rate. We can ask residents if they feel any beggar is suspicious.”
But others say the exercise is wrong because it brands poor and homeless people as criminals without tangible evidence. “If one is responsible, the entire lot cannot be held responsible. Police are unaccountable to local government and they do whatever they want,” human rights activist Indu Prakash Singh said.
“Police are hand-in-glove with criminals”
Police say in the future, if any crime is reported in the area, the beggars can be summoned to police stations to check for their possible involvement in case of any suspicion.
The couple – Ravi and Kadam -- roamed the streets as beggars, staking out unnamed houses in the locality and making a note of homeowners who were financially well-off or kept valuables at home, police said.
They both hailed from Rajasthan’s Tonk district and were caught after being spotted with an expensive-looking branded travelling bag that aroused the police’s suspicion.
Police say the couple was involved in eight theft cases in south Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave, Hauz Khas and Neb Sarai and have been sent to judicial custody. But many activists are doubtful whether crime of the duo is enough to launch a massive profiling programme.