Women are said to love men in uniform; and both men and women—not gullible layabouts, but professionals in the business of alertness—are taken in by it. A crisp shirt with gleaming epaulettes, peaked cap perched on top, brass buttons of his jacket given a spit-and-polish…Rajan Mahbubani, resident of Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, was a dead ringer for a Lufthansa pilot. His motive for the disguise? Ostensibly, to get privileged treatment at airports and in-flight services, but he seemed to have been goaded by a “love for uniform”, a penchant for make-believe and, one would imagine, an underfed ego.
Mahbubani was caught on November 18, when he tried to board an Air Asia flight from Delhi to Calcutta in his garb of choice. He admitted that he procured the fake I-card of Lufthansa from Thailand. “We are investigating his pictures on social networking sites, where he is posing inside the cockpit. It could be morphed, as entering the cockpit of an aircraft is not easy,” says Sanjay Bhatia, deputy commissioner, Delhi Police, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Indeed, Indian airports are the stomping grounds of an epidemic of imposters sweeping India. Its biggest spur is the lure of the ‘foreign’ country, a land where geese lay golden eggs as a matter of course—an obsession inexplicable for its being so persistently risky. Offences range from forgery of identification to inventive fancy dress, sometimes both.
The marquee case, if you like, was that of Jayesh Kumar Krushnakant Bhai Patel, 32, who posed as a wheelchair-bound 81-year old-man, Amrik Singh, aiming to take off for the US on September 9. For his disguise, he consulted makeup artist Shamsher Singh alias Billu Barber, who advised him to grow a beard and colour both hair and beard white. Add thick spectacles and a turban, and his deception was worthy of the world’s best con men. Jayesh also procured a passport for ‘Amrik Singh’ and a US visa.
Jayesh Patel, transformed into 81-year-old Amrik Singh.
On the day of his departure, Jayesh alias Amrik got into a wheelchair at IGI airport and coolly passed through immigration check. Then, at the time of security frisking, CISF personnel Rajveer Singh asked him to stand up.
Worthy of Sherlockian deduction, Singh noticed that Patel’s skin was of a young man and that the hair on his hands was black. He also noticed the black roots of his beard and hair. Once confronted, Jayesh was handed over to the police. The securityman later confessed that his nearly-successful ruse was aimed at securing a job in the US.
However, many like him have been able to cheat the stringent immigration process and reach their coveted destinations using forged passports and visas. “In the past few years, 60 impostors have left for the US. This has come to light after probing those who were caught at the IGI airport,” says Bhatia.
In an attempt slightly less audacious than Jayesh’s, 68-year-old Gurdeep Singh from Moga (Punjab) went as ‘Karnail Singh’, 89, to get employment as a labourer in Hong Kong. Later, he revealed that he had been visiting Hong Kong since 1995 on his original passport but was driven to this when he repeatedly failed to get a Hong Kong Permanent Resident Card. Yet Gurdeep was an astute impersonator—he hoodwinked airport officials and security and managed to go to Hong Kong in 2008, finally getting a card for ‘Karnail Singh’. Several more trips, too, passed without incident. On September 12, he arrived for one more visit. During immigration clearance, his youthful appearance (compared to his declared age) aroused the suspicion of airport staff. A masterful masquerade met its end.
Besides such instances of glaring deceit, airport officials often come across cases where passengers use their photographs on someone else’s passport; a degree of facial resemblance helps too. Like Jagdeep Kaur, 38, who dreamt of remarrying and settling in Canada and fraudulently obtained a passport from Jaipur in the name of Deep Kaur Brar, 32. Her trickery succeeded in 2007 and she travelled to Canada. But luck ran out this year, when she was charged for illegal residence and was deported.
Seeking asylum and refugee status in European countries like France and Germany also drive people to fudge travel documents. That’s what two Afghan nationals residing in India for the past 40 years tried to do. Armita Kaur and Amrita Kaur, who moved to India during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, were helped by one Rajesh Sharma to get Indian passports made in the names of Savitri and Rekha Sharma. That done, they got travel visas to Italy and, en route to France, reached Denmark, where they were caught travelling on invalid documents and deported in October.
In another case of twisted shamming, two passengers—a male and a female—posed as a couple and got past immigration and security clearance for Thailand from IGI this October. But Nirvair Singh from Kapurthala (Punjab) and Roshniben Chaudhari from Gandhi Nagar (Gujarat) had something else up their sleeve. They actually wanted to go to Canada. So, they didn’t take the flight to Thailand, instead boarding a China Southern Airlines flight using other passports and boarding passes issued in other names. Their game was up when they tried to board the connecting flight at the airport in China.
Much to the surprise of immigration officials, departure details of Indians deported due to invalid visas or incomplete documents are found to be missing in the system here. “This indicates that such people impersonate and travel on others’ passport while carrying their own valid passport as well. They get fake visas on a fake passport and cheat immigration officials and airline staff,” says an immigration official. “However,” he adds, “once they reach their destination, they are caught and sent back. They destroy fake passports on the way back to India. After arriving home as deportees, they show their valid passports as proof of legal travel. But absence of departure records from valid passports exposes their lies.”
However, admittedly, many who appear to be daring confidence men (and women) are really misled, pressured and groomed by touts and agents dangling a foreign dream before their desperate eyes. Almost all complain of extortion.
Yet, for all the bust-ups, instances of posturing as someone else are on a steady roll: out of 525 cases of offences lodged at IGIA police station in 2019 till date, about 20 per cent fall under its various guises. Keeping in mind the 86 immigration checkposts in India catering to international traffic, an overall count of the offence could be substantial. Seemingly endless ingenuity by offenders, too, is a force to reckon with.
The government is also trying to strengthen the immigration system by introducing programmes like Mission Mode Project on Immigration, Visa Foreigners’ Registration and Tracking (IVFRT). Under this, all Indian missions, immigration checkposts and Foreigners Regional Registration Offices are being computerised to develop a secure and integrated framework.
The law against impersonation, though stringent (a non-bailable, non-compoundable offence that can fetch a maximum 10 years’ imprisonment), has failed to act as a deterrent. The underground art of boundary-hopping confidence tricksters is a rampaging malady.