KARACHI: Groups of burqa-clad women with men and children in tow have been shoplifting the length and breadth of Zamazama Boulevard, by taking advantage of the hustle and bustle in the small spaces.
Ishaq Memon, who owns a cloth shop, fell victim to one such group that, according to him, stole from others in the area in a single day. “When we discussed the incident among friends and neighbouring shops, we found out that the same group had stolen from four shops in different streets,” he told The Express Tribune.
In one case, a burqa-clad woman haggled over an order, pretending to be a regular customer’s sister. When the regular customer walked in later, the shopkeeper mentioned it to her, only to discover that she was an only child. The burqa-clad woman’s cell phone number was a dead end. A stock check revealed several shirts were missing.
“The problem is that you cannot suspect every woman in a burqa to be a shoplifter,” said Shams Bhatti, a shop owner in lane VI. “You cannot do anything when four women and two men enter your shop and ask the attendants to show them things in different corners.” Most of the time they don’t buy anything. They just excuse themselves and leave quietly. “These women hide the items in their burqas or their bags,” he claimed.
Sometimes the women-dominated group includes men who help ‘distract’ shopkeepers while the women make their move. The number of members of these groups varies. Shopkeepers said they are about six to eight on average.
When shopkeepers suspect them of stealing, they hurry out of the shop and hand over the stolen items to their accomplices waiting outside. “So whenever you stop them for inspection, you have to face humiliation because they have nothing on them,” Bhatti said.
“It is also very difficult for shopkeepers to check the women they suspect as it is extremely disrespectful,” said Abdul Saeed, an official at the Darakshan police station.
These groups have not just restricted themselves to clothes and accessories inside shops, but have also taken off with generators outside. During the last two months, eight generators have been stolen from shops in Zamzama, said Bhatti, quickly adding, “They are not only operating in Zamzama but also in other markets like Gulf Way and the Forum Mall.”
One young woman having coffee at the Forum Mall was deprived of her handbag a little over a month ago. She was sitting with a friend when a group of burqa-clad women squeezed by the small space. It was gone within seconds. “I knew it was them,” she said. “No one else was around at the time.”
Although many shops have installed surveillance cameras the groups somehow dodge them too. It is also difficult for shops to monitor the cameras as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2010.