The old belief that the residents of Shani Shingnapur, 330 km to the northeast of Mumbai, can leave the doors to their homes unlocked because there are no thefts there, was shattered on February 5 when cash and valuables worth Rs73,000 were stolen from a home in the village.
Dagdu Kisan Shete, a resident and former trustee of the Shani temple located 1.5km from his home, discovered the theft early that morning when he found cash, jewellery and a mobile phone missing.
Shete, a former trustee of the Shani temple, is barely 1.5 kilometers from the shrine. “Whatever has happened has shocked us all and we are thinking of discussing the theft in the gram sabha [village meeting] in the next few days,” Shete’s son Vikram said.
The incident has shaken residents, who feel it will dent the village’s image of being crime-free. They are trying to salvage their faith arguing that Shete’s house falls in Kangaoni village and not in Shingnapur.
Assistant police inspector Bapusaheb Mane, in-charge of Sonai station, which is responsible for maintaining law and order in 39 villages including Shingnapur, said Shingnapur registered four theft cases in 2010 and three each in 2008 and 2009.
“It’s a myth that Shingnapur has no crime history,” says Mane. The last theft before the one at Shete’s home was that of a mobile phone stolen from Vinayak Gujrathi, a pilgrim from Thane, in December 2010.
The police arrested a man named Govind Kurulkar in the case and recovered the mobile phone from him.
In 2010, the village also registered cases of power theft, records of which are with the state electricity department.
Locals and temple trustees, however, refuse to believe that there could be thefts in the village, which is home to 4,000 people. “If the locals tell people that there have been crimes here, the number of visitors could drop,” Mane said. “This will hurt the local economy.”
These days, residents have been proudly narrating how the village’s first financial institution, a recently opened branch of UCO bank, decided not to lock its doors even at night, continuing the village tradition.
The branch, however, is taking no chances. Every evening, after the branch closes, its staff sends the cash to neighbouring Sonai. “As per the instructions from seniors, we take the day’s cash to Sonai to keep it in the safe. Next morning, when the bank reopens, we bring the cash back here,” Umakant Shah, the branch manager, said.