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.