The plot is always the same, a Bollywood-like drama enacted with award-winning panache and finesse. The victims are invariably elderly women with jewellery on them. And the “perpetrators” are the usual suspects, members of a community with roots in Iran.
However, for the Irani community settled in Madhya Pradesh, this flair for conning people by a section among them is their biggest problem, an unwanted, unwavering spotlight from which there is no escape.
Spread across six districts of the state, the Iranis had fled to India in the 19th century to escape religious persecution in their country.
But even though a majority of the 15,000-strong community has settled down and taken up other professions, the tag of master conmen has remained. And not without reason.
In Sendhwa city in Barwani district, around 150km from the state’s commercial hub Indore, Irani basti is known among police as the hub of conmen who are also masters in disguising themselves as police personnel.
On many occasions, gangs from the community have looted jewellery from unsuspecting women, enacting some of the most bizarre roadside dramas police have ever come across.
Police claims that the dupers who belong to the Iranian community have mastered the art of posing as fake police.
“They are well built, have hair cut similar to most policemen and dressed to resemble a policeman. These impersonators are well versed with human behaviour. They don’t panic and speak confidently,” said a senior police official.
Seventy-year-old Kavita Choudhary, for one, would vouchsafe for the Iranis’ sleight of hand and their power of histrionics.
Not too long ago, Choudhary was on her way to the temple when a ‘police officer’ accosted her on the YN Road in Indore.
She later told real police that the ‘police officer’ scolded her for wearing jewellery despite travelling alone. She was also told about a murder down the road. The ‘police officer’ then asked her to put the ornaments in her bag.
Even as she was following his orders, the ‘police officer’ intervened once again to say that she was not doing it properly.
Proceeding to “arrange” the jewellery himself, the ‘police officer’ took her bag and did a thorough job of neatly arranging a gold chain, a pendant and a ring.
Once the ‘police officer’ left, Choudhary decided to check the bag but there was nothing inside, she said in her complaint to police.
It is almost four decades since they started living in Sendhwa but not much has changed for the community.
Not a single child of the community in Sendhwa has done graduation though the present generation is enrolled in private and public schools. “We are sending our kids to school and want them to be educated. Our hope lies with them,” said Mukhtiyar Irani, a member of the community.
The tag of being thugs has hurt the present generation who want to wipe it off through their education and work. Akram Hussain, a senior member of Irani community living in Sendhwa said that they arrived in this region in 1975.
Samshad, 14, said police continuously harass the community. “We appeal to police not to harass us or our families, forget the past and let us live a peaceful life,” he said.
Another community member Akram said that there was a perceptible change in people’s attitude towards the community and “they no longer see us as conmen”.
Karan Singh, a businessman and a resident of Sendhwa said he had not come across any incident of the community creating problems.
Mukhtiyar, an ex-sardar of the community, admitted that 10% of the community may be engaged in criminal activity. “But is there in every community but why is the whole community targeted? We are trying to assimilate in the mainstream and most of us are successful,” Mukhtiyar added.
Fiza Irani, an advocate living in Burhanpur, felt that the community was “suffering because of illiteracy and under-development and government should help us”.
Iranis are mainly involved in selling precious stones though they have now shifted to other business. The Iranis based in Bhopal are mostly property brokers.
Sources in Indore police’s crime branch said they are investigating 20 cases of 2014 and 18 cases of 2013 involving community members.
“This is true that not all members of the community are engaged in duping or chain snatching but some people are still doing it and we have enough evidence to prove it,” said Dilip Soni, an ASP in the crime branch, Indore.