The Kashmiri vigilante posse

Christ, what a couple of days.

First, we got our MP3 players back. Yay. Of all the material things we own, they’re pretty much the worst thing that could have been stolen – I spent the best part of a week burning pretty much every CD I own onto the computer so that we could have a heap of music to take away with us. This makes them pretty much irreplaceable, and thankfully, we still have them. But what a saga it was to get them back.

They were, as noted in my last post, stolen from our hotel room. What actually happened went something like this…

On returning to the hotel from the internet cafe, we unlocked our door and were rather taken aback to come face-to-carbuncular-face with someone in our room. We were, in fact, so taken aback that it took us a moment to react when he mumbled something about fixing the toilet and slipped past us up the stairs. It only took a second to realise what had happened – L’s purse was lying open on the bed, and our MP3 players were gone – but that was long enough for the thieving fucker to leg it out of there.

I tried to chase him, but by the time I started he’d got far enough ahead to disappear. The small army of people who were around saw nothing – the highly trained guard dog was busy investigating the local tradesmen’s lunches, and the tradesemen themselves were busy fending off the dog, so no-one noticed a dodgy-looking panic-stricken thief running past them. Wonderful.

On returning to the room, though, we found that our marvellously incompetent burgular had left a passport and a gold chain sitting in our room. Grabbing these, we went upstairs, reported the theft to reception, and got on the phone to begin our dealings with the masterpiece of bureaucratic incompetence and idleness that is the Indian police force.

It took a couple of hours for them to deign to come and investigate, and when they did, they advised us to report the items lost, as it’d be far too much trouble for all concerned to actually investigate the theft. Their moods brightened considerably, though, when we showed them the passport we’d found in the room:

“Oh yes sir, this is the thief. See, he is a Kashmiri and Muslim. Very bad people.”

We expressed our doubts that *any* thief, no matter how stupid or desperate, would be idiotic enough to leave his own passport in a hotel room that he’d just burgled. There was also the small fact that the passport photo didn’t look much like the chap we’d seen in the room. But no, we were assured, this is the thief, we will trace the passport and find him.

When the “thief” was found an hour later, he turned out to no thief at all, but rather John, the irate owner of a local jewelry shop. He was a lovely fellow, and after we confirmed to the police that no, of course this isn’t the guy we saw, he explained that he’d left his shop open to go and have chai and play chess with his friends (apparently not an unusual course of action). Returning to the shop, he found that his passport and three gold chains were missing from his personal carrybag. Further confirming that the thief wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, the shopkeeper threw up his hands in bewilderment that the thief had robbed a jewelry shop without actually taking any jewelry – nothing was missing apart from the stuff from his bag, although the shop was fairly overflowing with expensive trinkets.

The police were completely thrown by all this, and explained that there was now basically no chance of getting our things back. Disheartened, we went off to the local cinema to watch the Borat movie (which was fucken hilarious, by the way). The police went back to the station to smoke more cigarettes. Behind the scene, however, the Kashmiri vigilante posse was swinging into action!

Thoroughly pissed off with having been robbed, John rounded up his mates and, armed with the description we’d given the police, went on the prowl. It was an impressively staged operation (in stark contrast to the police “investigation”) – once the description was circulated, one of the local shopkeepers said that he’d seen a guy fitting the criteria hanging around and acting suspiciously. The next morning, the posse watched the bus station, and sure enough, they spotted the guy. When they approached him, he legged it… and the posse had their man. As one expained to us proudly, “We chased him and caught him, and actually sir, I beat him quite a lot!”

All this happened while we were arguing the toss over compensation with the hotel, who were imploring us not to get the police involved as “they are so stupid and corrupt”. Just as we were coming to an impasse, one of the Kashmiris arrived to summon us to the police station. I jumped on the back of his Royal Enfield – aaaaahhh, what a bike – and off we went.

We arrived at the station to find the police drinking chai and John the shopkeeper interrogating the suspect. One look confirmed that, yes, it was definitely the thief. At this point, the police swung into action doing the one thing they seemed to do well – namely, hitting the suspect. It was quite a disconcerting and squirm-inducing experience – they slapped him, pulled his hair, shouted at him… I felt about 50% sorry for him and 50% disconcertingly pleased that he was getting what was coming to him. The percentages shifted as it carried on, though, and I was glad when they finally loaded him into the back of a car and went off to his hotel room to recover the goods.

As with everything in India, this took *forever*, so we hung around drinking chai with John the shopkeeper and his mates. They explained that this sort of thing had never happened before in McLeod Ganj, that they weren’t going to stand for it, that the police wouldn’t do anything, and that they had thus decided to do something themselves. All very impressive. Eventually, the police returned with a nice big stash of stolen goods – traveller’s cheques, credit cards, jewels, and yes, our MP3 players. It turned out that the thief had been at it for *five months*, operating out of a hotel room, and that nothing had been done about it, despite several other Westerners and shops being burgled – one Canadian lady had lost $2650 of traveller’s cheques, all of which turned up in the thief’s hotel room.

Anxious to wash our hands of the entire affair, we stuffed our stereos in our pockets and walked back to town. We dropped in to see John today, and found that unsurprisingly, this is going to run and run – the police have had him back twice already to sign different statements, the point of which appears to have been to cover their own arses as well as possible. Surprise, surprise.

All part of the experience, I guess, but we’ll never, ever, ever be leaving anything valuable in our hotel room again. And we’ll be having as little to do with the police as possible.

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