Yes, as you can tell by the title, theft on Indian Railways really does happen unfortunately.  I travelled Indian Railways through most of my backpacking journeys across India, and in 9 months never had anything stolen nor felt unsafe.  That is until a recent trip, which has now left me with a rather bad taste in my mouth.

I was returning back to Bombay after a fabulous trip to the Pali District of Rajasthan.  I was travelling with a friend on what was a work trip for both of us.  My friend is also Australian, but has lived in India for 8 years and is hardly a “foreigner” despite her Western appearance. We took the night train in a 3AC carriage and secured the private side berths. I was on the lower bunk, below which we had wedged our rather large bags. Something we had both done so many times before.

Usually I travel with my big backpack, but this time I had taken smaller luggage and had forgotten my trusty lock and chain on my backpack.  I didn’t think much of it, I had never had problems on Indian Railways before and my friend had never chained her luggage in all her years of train travel. We were exhausted after a few busy days of work and travel, and went to bed early with ear plugs in to block out the sound of the other passengers, just like I had on the hundreds of train trips I have taken before.

I woke at about 5am and tried to find my shoes in the dark so that I could go to the bathroom.  As I searched below my bunk, not only could I not find my shoe, but our luggage had disappeared as well.  We had 2 big bags that had been tightly wedged under the seat, and somehow, someone had managed to get them out without anyone seeing or me sensing it.

I called the conductor who really wasn’t a great deal of help.  Lots of forms were filled out, but there really wasn’t much he could do.  We decided to search a few carriages just in case our luggage magically appeared, but didn’t have any luck.  Thankfully I did at least find my other shoe though!

What amazed me was in the whole train, no one else had their luggage stolen. The guy in the berth opposite us had a laptop, I know because I saw him use it, and he didn’t chain his luggage. I believe we were targeted because we have foreign accents.  Because I have lived overseas I must be rich.  Whilst I do have more wealth than the average Indian, the average Indian doesn’t travel in AC carriages, and the only people who would have seen and heard us were in our carriage. So the person who stole our luggage is also not poor by Indian standards.

My reality is that I earn rupees and do not rely on money from Australia to sustain my life here, I work hard for my rupees.  Just because I have a foreign accent doesn’t mean I can afford to have things stolen from me.

Thankfully I didn’t have anything too valuable in my bag, just a lot of dirty clothes and a couple of new sarees I had bought in Rajasthan.  My friend unfortunately had her brand new DSLR camera in her bag. If only our thieves had left her memory card behind it would have at least saved the memories of our trip.

We disembarked in Bombay and grabbed an auto home, only to be called back to the station half an hour later. A cleaner had found our bags in one of the sleeper carriages further down the train.  Everything was still there, except my friend’s camera. We were exceptionally lucky.

Still nothing can take away the feeling of having my privacy violated and knowing that we were targeted and watched. I have a couple more overnight train trips in the upcoming weeks on my own, and I am sure I won’t get a wink of sleep even though my luggage will be tightly secured to the train. Perhaps I will fare better next time, because travelling alone means I don’t talk to anyone so no one hears my accent.  Perhaps if I wear a kurta and try to make my hair look a little less western, I can make myself more inconspicuous and spare myself being targeted by another thief. Perhaps I can do things to reduce my chances of someone seeing me as a good person to steal from.  I find it so distressing and annoying that I even have to think like this now. The magic of travelling the trains in India has now been ruined for me.

Do you think westerners are easy targets for petty criminals in India?

You can read about my friend’s account of this experience here.

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21 thoughts on “Theft on Indian Railways

  • November 6, 2015 at 9:52 pm
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    I just had my backpack stolen from Chittorgarh station first class waiting room while I took a nap only 3 metres away from the seat I put my bag on. and my laptop was in there, along with 65,000 photos that I have not had chance to back up to cloud, since most places internet uploads are very slow. Apparently the guy sitting by the entrance door to the waiting room is supposed to be a guard/ watchman but turned out pretty much useless.

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    • November 8, 2015 at 5:58 am
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      Sorry to hear that. I hope you reported the incident though. You never know if some of your things will turn up again like ours did.

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  • March 20, 2013 at 6:06 am
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    I am quite surprised that this happened in the AC carriage. Something similar happened to me – A couple years ago (Maybe 7-8) I was travelling on Non-AC too. I was listening to music and just happened to doze off. Someone stole my discman even though it was in my hand and left the earphones in my ear! I don’t usually lock my luggage when I travel in the AC carriage, but after reading this, I sure will! Sorry about your friend losing her DSLR. It’s probably one of the worst things you can lose 🙁

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  • March 13, 2013 at 4:14 am
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    nothing to do with being westerner, Indians are targeted equally, Democracy you see. But losing baggage on side berth right underneath you is shocking 🙁 Avoid the ear plugs next time may be 🙁

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    • March 13, 2013 at 4:29 am
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      I understand that Indians are also targeted, but in this instance I believe we were specifically targeted due to our foreign accents.
      Yes I think I am going to have to forgo getting any sleep and ditch the ear plugs next time.

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  • March 13, 2013 at 4:05 am
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    I usually travel with my laptop and after holding on to it with dear life while travelling for the first year that I was in India, I had finally started to be more trusting. This is shocking and disturbing, especially since Indian Railways always have enough and more commotions and it is almost impossible that no one noticed the thieves. I’m glad you found the bags back after all, and terribly sorry for Sharell’s loss (as a blogger, I know only too well the significance of photos from a trip you really enjoyed).

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    • March 13, 2013 at 4:07 am
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      I know! I can’t believe that its the first time I didn’t lock up my luggage, but also thankfully one of the rare times I didn’t take my laptop with me. Time for vigilance is upon us.

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  • March 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm
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    A bigger problem than theft while travelling in long distance trains is stone throwing. The train passes through some disturbing routes. The people in these regions are crazy, They throw huge rocks at the train while it passes by. The conductor pre-warns everyone to close the windows and doors for 15mins. Then you hear these barrage of sounds of rocks knocking on the side of the train for few seconds as if we are in a world war 2 film.

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    • March 12, 2013 at 3:50 am
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      Thanks for your insight into some of what goes on in the trains. Even though I have taken over 100 trains in the past couple of years, I am surprised now that I never encountered any of this.

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  • March 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm
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    Beware when the train stops at all those stations during late night. Once I woke up to a scream and found a women and a guy playing tug of war with a bag. When the train halts at a stop during the night, these guys aka thieves take a peek in the train to see if someone has their luggage in a vulnerable position. It takes them just 5mins to sneak in, grab the luggage and walk away.

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  • March 11, 2013 at 8:12 am
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    Two generations of my family have worked for the Indian Railways. And one thing I can say is that things like this happens, more often than you would think. The people hired by the catering department (IRCTC), to serve the food are outside contractors (daily wage employees). They are not railway employees. Clothes aren’t worth stealing. Electronic however, are. I usually put all my electronics in my laptop bad, which I keep near my head, with my hand through the strap, irrespective of weather I am in first AC, second AC or sleeper.
    It sucks to have something stolen, you feel so violated. And I feel so sorry for your friend losing her camera. But this happens, my parents had a small bag, which had their passports inside, stolen on a train from Zurich to Berlin (that story ends happily, i.e., the passports were found in time). But it just goes to show sometimes these things happen. I hope this experience does not put you off of trains in India.

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  • March 11, 2013 at 7:37 am
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    All experienced travellers avoid taking any valuables in their luggage. Valuable items, if any, are kept near the head while sleeping

    While we generally trust every one else, for safe keeping of valuables, we only trust ourselves.

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  • March 11, 2013 at 6:48 am
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    Oh gosh Rakhee, sorry to hear that happened to you. My last trip to India (3.5 months) I took 22 long journeys, about 10 of them overnight and I was a female travelling alone. All were in 2AC. My first trip I took a PacSafe with me – have you heard of these? It’s wire and fits right over the backpack and you chain that to the seat. A real pain to put it on but I’m sure thiefs would think twice about it. Here’s the link: http://pacsafe.com/pacsafe-55l-bag-protector
    My second trip I just had a padlock and chain that I bought in India. I guess I was just lucky. Sorry it’s left a sour taste of Indian Railways.
    Cheers, Fiona
    PS: I read your friend’s book and loved it!!!

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    • March 11, 2013 at 6:54 am
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      Thanks Fiona. I do have one of those wire locks, but unfortunately had it on my backpack which I didn’t take with me on this trip. Its the first time I didn’t chain my luggage to the train!
      I will let Sharell know you loved her book, she will be thrilled.

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  • March 11, 2013 at 6:16 am
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    Just now, an Indian guy left a comment on my website’s FB page saying that he got drugged when sharing food with some other passengers and awoke to find all his luggage gone. This was back in 2005. Another Indian guy has said he got a whole bag of his clothes stolen. I’m fast becoming VERY wary of train travel in India. 🙁

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    • March 11, 2013 at 6:18 am
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      Oh dear that is horrible! This is one reason why I don’t speak to people on the trains, especially when I am travelling alone.

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    • March 11, 2013 at 7:31 am
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      In regard to the drugging, another Indian reader just left this comment: “In some cases they buys biscuits from outside and share…people wont find this suspicious as it packed biscuits and bought in front of you ..but later they find that they were drugged with thouse biscuits…its very frequent on delhi mumbai via kota corridor . its not just couple or a single person …I believe its larger gang/setup than we can imagine.” 😮 I’m really shocked!

      Reply

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