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For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Agency

There was a time when casual coughing by some family member while asleep, used to scare away a potent burglar. Thinking that somebody was awake, the timid intruder would rush back quickly.

This phenomenon led to a popular saying that an elderly person suffering from a coughing problem should not get it treated because that was the best safeguard against potent thievery.

When I was a lad, my grandmother had assigned me the duty of locking all the doors of our big house before going to sleep. I would then give her the bunch of keys, including that of our strong room that she would slide under the pillow.

Now can you imagine that with that done, she as well as all others were assured of perfect security, and had a nice sleep?

Believe me, that even with that level of scanty precaution, we never had any problems. But change being a continuing process, their modus operandi also started improving or may be worsening. Moving with the times, the criminals graduated to newer modes of thievery. Shedding inhibitions, they became less fearful and bolder, as we find them today.

Today, the practice of hiding the bunch of keys, under the pillow would sound to be a laughable matter, but that was a reality in those early days. The element of assured security was there in the odd. In the old-style houses, notwithstanding the fact that unlike the latter-day structural patterns of houses, the rooftops of houses used to be conjoined and could provide easy access to a potent burglar.

But that was a rare occurrence.

Interestingly, the few banks we had did not provide the facility of lockers, and people preferred to keep their precious items like jewellery and valuable documents at home. We had a couple of bulky, thick-walled iron vaults. Opening or closing them was no child’s play in the real sense of the term.

It is a different thing, that today, bank lockers are available but you hire them at your own risk. Banks do not compensate for any loss caused by some heist. Under the present existing rules, you get only a part of the cash you keep in the event of the bank going bankrupt.

With the social values and social order heading south almost everywhere, antisocial elements are having a heyday.

Today, an average man shudders at the sight of even an apprentice armed criminal. In metro cities, a nasty person breathing down heavily on your shoulder, or just staring intently into your eyes could make you sneak out for safety.

With the social environment being what it is today, snatching a woman’s gold chain, purse, or smartphone has become almost a pastime for many jobless youngsters in some places in India. In many places, they come on two-wheelers and escape after collecting the booty.

That brings them easy money and they are seldom caught. I cannot forget about a crime, which might look small to some, but was ghastly. I witnessed it in Delhi years ago. A passenger alighting from a city bus was shocked to see blood on the footboard, right near his feet.

He wanted to know whose blood it was, but soon he discovered that it was his own. His finger was lying nearby. But the gold ring he was wearing was gone. Obviously, he did not feel any pain when the finger was chopped off.

But nothing can beat the instances of modern-day Draculas operating in an East Uttar Pradesh district. They have administered sedatives to cart pullers and decamped with the booty while the victims remain unconscious.

Of course there have been instances of poor, unsuspecting patients in some parts of the country whose organs were stolen. What can be more shocking than this new mode of thievery.

— Lalit Raizada is a senior journalist based in India.