Intricately crafted jewellery sets usually elicit appreciative—and at times envious—sighs. In the US, though, they are also attracting unwanted attention. An alarming number of Indian-American households have been targeted by burglars for just one thing—gold. In recent crime sprees, the criminals often ignored expensive gadgets and went straight for the shiny treasure.
Local police departments were unable to provide specific statistics because they do not base such data on ethnicity. However, members of the Indian American community say the numbers are significant enough to give them cause for concern. Last month, in the city of Fremont in California’s Silicon Valley, burglars forced a man and his wife to kneel at gunpoint and then hand over their gold jewellery. They proceeded to ransack the house in search of more jewellery and eventually left with loot worth $25,000.
Earlier in May, burglars struck Surekha Gangakhedkar’s home in San Jose, also in the San Francisco Bay Area. The family was away on its routine evening outing and returned to find their house ransacked. “Not a room was left untouched,” says Gangakhedkar, a biotech professional. Possessions worth $15,000, including gold and jewellery, were stolen. The electronics again were left untouched. “The scariest part was knowing that someone had been keeping track of our movements.” The case remains unsolved.
It is not unusual for Indian-American families to own large quantities of gold. These possessions are often kept at home and not in bank safe deposit boxes. A lot of the gold is in the form of 22-carat jewellery, family heirlooms and religious icons. Sam Rao, a long-time Indian-American community activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area, says Indian-Americans are easy prey for burglars not just because they keep large quantities of gold at home. “When burglars see no footwear (outside the house) they know there is no one at home and they strike,” he said.
Incidents have been reported from across the country. In the city of Plano in Texas, the problem turned so bad that residents urged Governor Rick Perry to set up a task force of high-ranking police officials to apprehend the gangs of burglars. “In most cases, perpetrators broke glass windows in the side rooms of homes when home owners were away. They mostly seem to look for 22-carat gold jewellery and cash,” they wrote in a petition to Perry last November. The petition garnered close to 2,000 signatures. Similarly, in New Jersey, a spate of robberies at Indian-American homes has resulted in losses that ran into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Then, in September 2010, Melinda Soto of New York City admitted in a federal court that she and two male accomplices stole gold jewellery, coins and religious icons from the homes of South Asian families in Northern Virginia. They stole more than $500,000 worth of gold and other valuables. While the spate of burglaries is generating conversation among Indian-Americans, little has been done to change patterns of behaviour and avoid such incidents.