Indians and most Asians, have had a love-affair with gold for centuries. Perhaps, it is because gold has always been viewed as the ultimate refuge in times of economic and political instability. In most of Asia where there is no safety net whether in the way of state pensions or government provided healthcare, having a stash of gold is viewed as a form of investment/security. To this day, in India and presumably other parts of Asia, when parents bestow upon their daughters at the time of marriage, large amounts of gold jewelry to be worn during the ceremony and reception.

Fast forward to the the US and the UK ……………..

I have to give my brother, Peter, credit for drawing my attention to this new phenomenon when he told me about it. Despite my extensive browsing of the net, I had not picked up on this new target for criminals.

Of course, it is not altogther surprising what with gold prices reaching well over $1000 an ounce – and the typical desi’s love affair with all things made of gold. When I say “gold” I am not referring to the 14 carat or 18 carat jewelry that Westerner’s wear but the “the real thing” which Indians – and other Asians – go for: namely, the 22 carat stuff. They would doubtless have gone for the 24 carat pure gold – except that it would be too soft for jewelry!

It turns out that South Asian (Indian or desi) homes in the US and the UK are being burgled and the only things being taken in many cases is gold jewelry. Apparently this has become an epidemic of sorts and the thieves are very discriminating in their choice of jewelry – the leave behind the fake gold and take the real stuff. And horror of horrors, nothing is sacred because the burglars are also ripping off the jeri (the gold embroidery sometimes used in abundance as decoration on saris) from the rest of the sari and taking away the jeri!

Now to offer context to any non-Indian reading this blog entry, Indians have customarily kept their expensive jewelry at home usually well hidden in the most unlikely of places to be retrieved and worn by the women folk on those special occasions when they would adorn their jewelry so that other women could admire/envy it – and seek to emulate them on their next visit to India! Putting it in a safe deposit box would rather defeat the purpose since ready access is needed to facilitate being able to wear it on those special social occasions which really is any party where a number of desis are gathered together.

Burglars with a keen appreciation for gold have targeted Indian and South Asian homes in a months-long series of daytime break-ins in Northern Virginia, according to a media report. “The burglars are discerning. They have taken 22-karat pieces but left behind sterling silver and well-crafted costume jewellery,” the Washington Post reported.

“They have sifted through floor-length gowns lovingly stored in closets and plucked every custom-made sari threaded with gold and worth thousands, disdaining saris worth only hundreds.”

Both law enforcement and the homeowners themselves have not been able to figure out how the burglars target the homes that have been invaded.

Before they became victims, many of the families were strangers, and they and police have eliminated many of the obvious links: churches, temples, schools or even grocery stores where they could have been tracked, the Post said.

The unsolved crimes mirror a pattern of over 100 burglaries in Houston, many in central Illinois and a handful outside St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Most of us didn’t even know each other,” Raman Kumar, whose home in Centreville, another Washington suburb, was among the earliest break-in sites was quoted as saying. Kumar, an IT professional living in Centreville recalled that he had gone out for lunch with a friend for just one hour that afternoon. When the family returned home, they found the bedroom ransacked with precious gold and diamond jewellery gone. Also gone was a gold statute of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, and seven ‘mangal sutras’.

Vindhya Kommineni of Fair Oaks lost her expensive wedding rings and saris besides a sterling dinner set that included gold inlay despite having installed a sophisticated security system after hearing of other break-ins. But the thieves still managed to break in through a rear door after disabling the security system with her husband’s key fob.

Since gold has been selling at more than $1,000 an ounce, some of the break-ins have netted more than $100,000 worth of jewelery, victims reported.

These burglaries are not limited to the US. It has been occurring in the UK as well. In the suburb of Hounslow – home to a large number of Punjabis and Gujaratis – there have been numerous robberies. In some instances these thefts have accounted for more than two-thirds of all thefts in the area, local media reported.

Nearly 25 percent of Hounslow’s population of more than 212,000 are South Asians – mostly Indians, who are also the single largest ethnic group in the area, according to the last census taken in 2001. Police in areas with large Indian populations routinely step up patrolling during Diwali, Navratri and other festive seasons to dissuade burglars who target empty Indian homes.

Consumers, in India, buy 25 percent of the world’s gold and some cultural habits don’t change because for Indian immigrants the yellow metal is also a favored investment in Britain.

As a law enforcement official observed many prefer to keep it inside drawers and cupboards at home – sometimes within the folds of saris – rather than in a bank or a safe deposit. With the price of gold hitting $1,000 per ounce last month, thieves and burglars have been quick to seize the opportunity. Sound familiar??

“People wouldn’t leave thousands of pounds in cash on show in their homes, but they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to gold, and family heirlooms,” said Detective Sergeant Kevin Martin.

Martin makes a valid point!

(Thanks to “Thaindian” which was my main source for the above material.)

5 Responses to “Gold, glorious gold!”

  1. Peter says:

    Shyni says that storing gold ornaments in a safe deposit box makes it dull. Of course given the choice of no gold or just dull gold which can be polished, to restore its “bright and beauty”….its what they call a no-brainer <:)

  2. Richard says:

    Saira and I had a similar conversation when we were dating. I urged her to put her important goods in a Safety Deposit Box. Not long after she opened her box she came home one evening to the police coming out of her garage.

  3. TJ says:

    Peter, this is the first I have heard about gold left in safe deposits boxes turning dull. But your point is well made that dull gold that can be polished is better than no gold! I think it is more that it would cramp her style in terms of wearing a variety of jewelry unless easy access was available.

  4. TJ says:

    Richard, I had to get Saira to jog my memory about the police coming to her house. It completely slipped my mind. But your timing certainly worked out well in terms of her transferring valuables into a safe deposit box!

  5. Vasilisa says:

    Beautiful essay, obtained the enjoyment of studying

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