Vehicle theft by juveniles is becoming a big threat to Chennai’s traffic police.
The Detroit of India, Chennai, records more than 25 cases of vehicle theft each day. Many of these thefts are done by young boys, mostly in groups.
“We see a dirty scooty lying unsupervised in a narrow underlit street, we take it. We turn it on with dummy keys or even a metal wire, and take it to the scrap shops to be dismantled. We sell these parts to a local dealer for money,” says a 15-year old boy from Pudupettai. He works part-time at a mechanic repair shop there.
The teenager has been working in the mechanic shop since he was 7 years old. He has repeated his 9th standard twice and finds no interest in studying. His parents are daily wage workers at a construction site. He has an elder brother who also works as a mason. Even with all of their salaries put together, they can barely make ends meet.
“I don’t have any interest in studies. I find it very difficult to catch up, especially English. I’m good with calculation. So I think I’ll drop out and work at the shed full-time to learn mechanical work. It’s far more interesting than regular school for me,” he said.
Apart from economic pressure, it is also peer pressure that drives these boys into thieving.
“I was never into it. But my friend took me out once and got me involved in one such situation. I couldn’t escape as the police was nearby and if I run I would be caught. He [his friend] takes me along with him most of the time now. The money helps me get my own stuff, so I continued to do it,” said another 15-year old from Kasimedu.
This boy hails from a family of fishermen. He comes to Pudupettai since he finds this has a better future than fishing. His parents are unaware of the dangers that he faces in the field.
“They are fine with me working here since it pays more and they think it is safer than going into the sea. I can’t tell them about what happens here. If I do, they will definitely be very angry with me and won’t allow me to work anymore,” he said.
He uses the money to buy food from better eateries in the area, for himself and his family.
“I sometimes crave for a barotta or biriyani. My parents can’t afford to get it often. So I get it whenever I feel it with this money. Sometimes I get fancy items like watches or sunglasses. I hide it in my closet at home so my parents don’t question me as to where I get the money.”
In order to escape from the police, number plates and stickers on the bikes are immediately changed before taking it into the main roads. They take to a nearby alley, change and clean the vehicle as fast as they can, and sneak it away by wearing helmets.
“Once, my friend stole a [Yamaha] R15 from Saidapet. He changed the number plate and added a sticker in the front and rode it in the very same street where he stole it from. Nobody got a clue that it was stolen. The commonly used bikes are the easiest to steal around the city,” said the boy from Pudupettai.
Children are also hired by local dealers as they are quicker and easily fooled into such business.
The police said that a few are caught when they see them speeding in triples on the roads, but the nimble adolescents find ways to escape from the police.
“We have caught many of these boys while stopping them for not wearing helmets. They don’t have any license or even ID proof, which arouses the main suspicion. Even if they do wear helmets, some of them drive unusually fast on main roads. All these are ways to see if the boy has stolen the vehicle or not. Public need to be aware of such activities and make sure that their vehicle is parked in a safe space,” said a traffic policeman in Pudupettai.