On 9th February, Dravita Singh, standing at the door of a moving train, lost her fingers and a leg, when a man, who wanted to steal her mobile phone, hit her with a stick. She could have lost her life if the motorman had not noticed it. In another incident, on 10th March, Miloni Parekh was dragged up to the footboard of a Churchgate-bound train after she ran to save her mobile phone, when a man snatched it at Santa Cruz station.
These are just two gruesome instances from scores of such cases that occur on a daily basis, especially on Mumbai’s suburban trains. Some of these crimes committed by organised gangs are a menace for commuters; one such is the ‘fatka’ gang which gets its name from its technique, where two members work in tandem: one hits the commuter’s hand to loosen his/her grip on the phone while an accomplice quickly pockets the fallen instruments and runs away.
The most common way thieves steal phones is by wheedling them out from backpacks and back pockets of trousers. It is also not uncommon for thieves to snatch phones from shirt pockets. As trains are very crowded, commuters do not realise their phone is missing until it is too late.
Fortunately, there are processes that can aid people to recover their stolen goods. Renowned railway activist, Samir Zaveri, has always claimed that it is only due to the lack of diligence on the part of the victim that such criminals continue to persist with thieving. He also concedes that they work in collusion with the police and are protected by them as they do not register complaints correctly and or make an effort to nab the criminals.
As the responsibility of theft lies partly on railway passengers, they should be aware of their rights and follow a few simple steps that could save them from a later headache. Passengers should always save the railway emergency number on their phone (182), check if their bags are securely zipped, inform the police about any suspicious behaviour and avoid standing on the footboard while speaking on the phone or travel on the footboard, for that matter.
At a recent seminar organised by Moneylife Foundation, Samir Zaveri presented several case studies that demonstrated the effectiveness of the existing protocol for recovering stolen goods. The first step is to file a first information report (FIR) or complaint with the nearest government railway police (GRP) station. The victim should make sure that the complaint is being lodged as ‘theft’ and not as a ‘missing’ phone. This distinction is important because, in the case of the latter, the complaint will not be given proper attention and no attempt will be made to recover the phone. Unfortunately, getting the police to register an FIR, rather than a missing phone complaint, is tough and needs the passengers to insist on it. The victim need not present a purchase bill while filing an FIR. She only needs to provide the details of the model/make of the phone, with a detailed description and the unique international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) number. Having this information with them, while going to file a complaint, is important. The complainant will receive a copy of the FIR for their reference.
Once the mobile is recovered by the GRP, they will contact the complainant and request them to present a Rs100 stamp paper along with the ID card and name/address details written on a plain sheet of paper to the nearest jurisdictional railway court. The court, in turn, will provide in writing on the stamp paper, details of the phone’s theft and ownership. All that the complainant has to do, at this point, is to sign the stamp paper and present it to the GRP for recovery of the mobile phone.
Samir Zaveri insists that the process is quite simple; but most victims avoid approaching GRP with their complaint, as they are convinced of it being a lost cause. During his talk, Mr Zaveri also presented another new resource that has been made available to rail passengers. Indian Railways have introduced a mobile application called ‘Rail Suraksha’ to ease the access of services to a passenger. The app provides contact details of relevant railway station masters, railway protection force (RPF) officers, the nearest GRP station location and other such relevant information. It is also able to register a complaint by noting pertinent details of station, train number, ticket number, PNR number, coach and berth number etc. The app further allows a complainant to track the status of her complaint within 48 hrs of making it.
Besides the app, Mr Zaveri also recommends using social media, especially Twitter, as a tool to make initial complaints or follow up on an existing complaint. The twitter handle of Indian Railways has been very deft in responding to complaints. But be aware, that Twitter is not the official method of getting a complaint resolved; it will garner attention to your complaint.
In effect, getting back your phone requires persistence; it is not always a lost cause.