A recent news item in The Hindu carried a report on an initiative taken by the Railway Police to warn passengers against ‘biscuit bandits’ and to refrain from accepting food and drink from strangers.
Times have changed, we muse. Confidence tricksters come up with new tricks every day. We have to be constantly vigilant. The days where we could trust and hobnob freely with fellow passengers are gone, we tell ourselves.
But, if you thought that ‘biscuit banditry’ was a fairly recent phenomenon , you would be mistaken.
An account presented, to the Secretary of State for India in Council on Railways in India for the year 1859, by the Secretary, Railway Department, India Office, (equivalent of our modern-day Railway Budget), has this short report, in page 9:
In the report of Captain Portman, Superintendent of Police for the Bombay, Police cases. Baroda, and Central India Railway, illustrations are given of the various offences committed on railways in India. Two cases of dacoity are mentioned, consistingof night attacks upon stations for the sake of plunder. There is a case of robbery by a female, who administered to a fellow passenger a powerful narcotic, which she described as a " pussad," or sacred sweet, and was taken as such by her victim. She was found asleep in the carriage, deprived of her ornaments and money. Thefts and embezzlement under false declaration of goods are sometimes practised. Bags of gunpowder are despatched as groceries, and opium is smuggled in oil jars, the drug being packed between narrow receptacles for oil one passing through the middle of the jar and another just inside the covering. Opium is also sent in bags, described as containing gum, glue, &c.
So, the trick is, at least, 150 years old. The only difference is that in 1859, prasadams were used to administer drugs, while the modern-day robbers use biscuits. But, it is amazing that we still need to be warned against this modus operandi, as though this is a newly-invented trick.