Warning: Drugging at Sasaram train station Bihar

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#1 Jun 28th, 2007, 15:53
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  • Rachael is offline
#1
This is not meant to cause alarm about druggings. Rather, I would like to suggest caution to those who might be planning to travel to Sasaram in Bihar.

Main points:
1) I was drugged along with my sister and a male Nepali friend, through chai given to us from a tea stall on a platform at the train station in Sasaram, Bihar.
2) It happened late last year (so hope the delay in posting hasn't led to any other mishaps there).
3) I felt the effects very quickly after only a couple of sips - and the effect was strong. Although the onset was slower for the other two, we all felt very wired and restless - which was then compounded by fear of what might happen next - knowing that things might progress quickly and badly.
5) A big group of men were gathered around. When my friend left to tip out his drink, some of them started closing in saying "one kiss".
6) We all quickly made our way to the stationmaster's office, where we continued to feel anxious (one person was slightly hallucinating). Men from the 'gathering' kept peeping in to look on us. We stayed there until our delayed train came.
7) After about three or so hours the drug wore off.
8) The whole experience was very frightening.

Luckily, there was no terrible consequence at the time. Unfortunately, there was some lingering paranoia and anxiety when I consumed food and drinks in future, especially when I was travelling alone.

I've got no idea what drug was used. I am suprised by its effects and its use in a drugging - as we definitely didn't feel sleeply (although my friend felt sleepy after an hour or so). I'm not sure if the effect would have been different if we'd drank the whole cup of tea.

I'm not sure what the intention of the druggers were. At the time, I wasn't worried about losing our gear, although this might have been the plan. I was concerned about rape or worse.

The station master was quite unconcerned about the whole thing. He said we hadn't been drugged and first suggested a waiting room (where anyone could enter). I was assertive and in the end, he let us stay in a room attached to his office. I doubt police would have taken the event seriously. It took some time to get the train station police in Varanasi to take it seriously when we returned their a few days later.

Although the tea came from a stall on the station, it was offered to us and paid for by a 'soldier on leave from duties at the Pakistan-India border'. Tut, tut, bad case of judgement on my part. I had originally refused the offer of tea three times but the embarrassment of refusing 'hospitality' got awkward especially with a group of people around, and we succumbed to pressure, cautiously I might add. I watched the old man make the tea and pour it from the teapot. We took little sips. But... I made this decision in Bihar, a place that is notorious for such crimes...

The whole thing was rather grounding and humiliating. I had a lot of travel experience, on and off the beaten track, and judgement that had kept me in good stead in all sorts of situations.

And it is a shame because although it is important to be cautious, many of us have travelled in numerous places (e.g., Pakistan, Iran, India) enjoying and appreciating wonderful hospitality without any harm. It's a fine balance to keep safe and enjoy wonderful experiences that fear and caution obstruct. And it gets embarrassing turning down hospitality in genuine situations because of some risk. But then being drugged isn't any fun.

Other than being drugged, I found Sasaram to be a very interesting place. It attracts few tourists and so the people are friendly, kind, and curious. Most well know for its attractive mausoleums, it is also interesting in that it is a town in Bihar (population around 100 000), a state that faces many difficulties, including poverty - and a state that has an interesting history. Pungent charcoal smoke drifts in every direction as stalls cook breakfast or tea early on a white misty morning. It has incredibly cheap food with honest vendors, e.g., 3 breakfasts for a total of 8 rupees(!) - the excess money I gave was returned without hesitation.

Take care there though (and at other train stations and bus stands). There is a dishonest tea vendor and/or a network of people using the tea vendor. A newspaper reported several violent crimes that occurred whilst we were there. And a month or so later, there was a newspaper article about almost 50 skulls being found near a bridge by one of the mausoleums (probably quite unconnected to drugging travellers though).

Finally, to put the whole thing in perspective, it was the only 'bad' experience I've had during all my travels. Travelling is a wonderful experience...
#2 Jun 28th, 2007, 16:40
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#2

Hello Rachael and welcome to indiamike.com

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael View Post Finally, to put the whole thing in perspective, it was the only 'bad' experience I've had during all my travels. Travelling is a wonderful experience...
It must have been a terrifying experience, but you reacted in the right way and had the sense to get to the station master and insist on staying by him.

I'm glad to see this awful incident hasn't put you off India or travel, I agree with you that it must feel awful to refuse food/drink from other innocent people.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael View Post But... I made this decision in Bihar, a place that is notorious for such crimes...
Notorious is a strong word, drug robberies are reported just as frequently in neighbouring states as well as other areas in India, maybe things were different in the past, I've only been reading an Indian newspaper for a couple of years.

Either way, even one of these crimes is too many, and if it happened to me in Bihar, I wouldn't be worried about how often it happened elsewhere or what other states it could happen in, I would be very angry, and maybe very wary of visiting the same place again.

How are you and your friends coping now?
#3 Jun 28th, 2007, 16:55
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You're right. Whilst Bihar has got quite a reputation (and so I felt a fool in that regard) similar things, both good and bad, happen in other states. In fact, I had to keep in mind that variations of drugging occur in my own. Within India, I noticed that news of bad events spreads faster when it is in Bihar - a bit unfortunate really.

After we'd recovered I was very angry. But anger isn't a particularly useful response so I let it go.

We're all fine now. All a little more cautious I guess... and for me, a bit more neurotic! I'll be interested in how I respond to eating and drinking when I return to India.
#4 Jun 28th, 2007, 17:08
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael View Post We're all fine now. All a little more cautious I guess... and for me, a bit more neurotic! I'll be interested in how I respond to eating and drinking when I return to India.
It's good to hear you're all fine now.

I'm sure you'll be fine with food in India, you noticed all the warning signs with the Sasaram incident, but the pressure that was being put on you, combined with you're attempts at being friendly placed you in a crazy situation, I'm sure that just one warning sign will be enough on your next trip, once bitten.....

I must say, I like your attitude; other may have been put off for good if they had a similar experience.
#5 Jun 28th, 2007, 19:08
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Rachael, welcome to indiamike.

Real glad you are ok now; admire your presence of mind at that time and your attitude through it all.
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#6 Jun 28th, 2007, 19:19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael View Post it was offered to us and paid for by a 'soldier on leave from duties at the Pakistan-India border'. Tut, tut, bad case of judgement on my part. I had originally refused the offer of tea three times but the embarrassment of refusing 'hospitality' got awkward especially with a group of people around, and we succumbed to pressure...
Useful post, not only for cases of malevolence like that (fortunately failed in this case), but also for more benign cases when pressure is put on someone (scams, touts, etc.)

Useful to think and model these situations and ones' own reaction in advance, and program oneself to always keep complete initiative - never leave your initiative to someone else - particularly when they are insistant.

And let's not be all so PC about Bihar... It has a reputation... Probably for a reason.
** Humor is Freedom **
#7 Jun 28th, 2007, 19:58
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Originally Posted by IVAN View Post And let's not be all so PC about Bihar... It has a reputation... Probably for a reason.
True, but I worry that people will think all is OK because they're not in Bihar.

When I booked the Bramaputra Mail, an India friend said "That's not a good train, it travels through Bihar during the day!!" I'll never forget those words.

It's also true that many Indians fear travelling through Bihar.

However, I read many newspaper articles about drug/robberies in UP, Jharkhand and Orrisa, also some in AP & Tamil Nadu, and recently on a Goa - Mumbai train.

Khajuraho-Varanasi......a couple of years ago the overnight train from Varanasi to Satna had a poor reputation for theft, I don't know if this is still the case, also....The Bundelkhand Express, the overnight train people use to get from Khaj to Varanasi (from Mahoba) has a nickname, it's either the Naxalite Express or the Dacoit Express, I can't remember what one, or why it has this name, but worrying all the same.
#8 Jun 29th, 2007, 01:03
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Steven, Drug robberies happen on trains in other parts of India: the "Biscuit Bandits". Our newspapers carry the story, not often, but regularly of unconscious people being removed from trains in Chennai, having being relieved of their valuables.

I don't recall a story of someone being drugged on the station platform. But that doesn't mean it never happened!

Other than being drugged, I found Sasaram to be a very interesting place. --- Perhaps one of the greatest lines ever posted on IndiaMike!!!

Reminded me of the joke...

But, apart from that, Mrs Lincoln; did you enjoy the play?
~
Life gets aadhar every day.
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#9 Jun 29th, 2007, 03:00
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Quote:
I watched the old man make the tea and pour it from the teapot. We took little sips. But... I made this decision in Bihar, a place that is notorious for such crimes...
This is interesting.. Did anyone talk to the old man and ask him what he put in the Tea? Maost stall owners will not collude with the criminal types as they need permits to operate in the station. They will lose their permits if caught. But then this happenned in Bihar..
Last edited by crvlvr; Jun 30th, 2007 at 01:00..
#10 Jun 29th, 2007, 03:36
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael View Post Although the tea came from a stall on the station, it was offered to us and paid for by a 'soldier on leave from duties at the Pakistan-India border'. Tut, tut, bad case of judgement on my part. I had originally refused the offer of tea three times but the embarrassment of refusing 'hospitality' got awkward especially with a group of people around, and we succumbed to pressure, cautiously I might add. .
This falls under the self-named aggressive hospitality that one will constantly experience when travelling India.

The abiltity to say "no" or "no thank you" decisively and if necessary with accompanied hand gestures is a top ten prerequisite for subcontinent travel.

Although 99.9% of these hospitalitiy requests will be honest, safe and with very good intentions ..... always stick with your initial gut instinct even if the "earshot" peer pressure seems to be swaying your decision before you've actually made it.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. ~
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Last edited by PeakXV; Jun 29th, 2007 at 21:41.. Reason: spell
#11 Jun 29th, 2007, 05:58
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At the time none of us were in a state to talk with the old man. We were more concerned with being in a 'safe' place in case we passed out or lost the plot (with hallucinations etc). When our train passed through Sasaram a few days later (after visiting Bodhagaya), I tried communicating the story to someone there. This person became distracted with seemingly irrelevant issues, like which class I was travelling on that day, where I was from... And with only 2 minutes clocked for the stop, I was a bit nervous to wander too far from the train to pursue the matter.

Sometimes I wonder if it was even connected with the old man. The tea was served with some locally made biscuits which might have been laced with something. Although the old man brought these over they might not have been from his shop. Someone might have given them to him.

Furthermore, prior to drinking the tea from the platform, we had wandered around - as our train was running 4 hours late. During the last half hour or so, we had spent some time sitting at another little tea stall just outside the station (on the river side, not the main road side). There we had drank two or three cups of tea (thimblesize!) and eaten biscuits.

During our time there, quite a large crowd gathered. First a few men asking questions, later the 'soldier', and things just continue to grow. In Sasaram this didn't seem particularly strange. When I've been in Pakistan, particularly in places which don't see many foreigners, people do sometimes accumulate in large groups to ask questions or see what is happening. After a while, I thought we should move on, and so we went back to the platform. Several of the group, including the soldier, came with us. I have a feeling that this soldier was the main culprit. He might have convinced the old man to assist with some promise of reward.

A lot of travelling is about intuition. To be absolutely honest, I would have never suspected this old man. He did not look dishonest; I did not get one suspicious vive from him. He seemed perfectly fine - the type of man who would help you if you asked him.

And the worrying thing: could this happen to me again even after having this experience? Quite possibly (although I hope not). I think intuition and rules can save us most of the time... For example, on the train from Varanasi to Jalgoan a week or so later, a policeman sat next to my sister and I, and after a while he tried buying a tea for us. I didn't trust him one bit, and with the Sasaram experience fresh in my mind, I said no even though he persisted. I then watched him whisper to the chai boy while he was doing something with his fingers to indicate sprinkling something into the tea. The boy looked a little alarmed, laughed nervously, said no, and left the carriage. I made quite a scene with the policeman, who then spent the next 7 hours explaining to every new passenger that I had accused him of this. But I didn't change my mind about him - in fact my image worsened as the hours rolled on... But sometimes the 'crims' are more talented than we are. I've heard of a woman who was drugged by a lovely 'family' woman with children on a train. My Nepali friend was drugged at Shimla a couple of years before by a little boy. It doesn't always involve suspicious looking or overbearing touts.

All in all, I learnt not to be pressured into something for the sake of being polite and not to think that my years of travelling experience makes me invincible or better than the crooks in all cases. Hopefully, I'll be wiser in the future. And hopefully I'll continue to enjoy genuine hospitality when its offered... Try getting through Pakistan without accepting a tea or some food from someone you don't know well...
#12 Jun 29th, 2007, 12:05
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachael View Post Try getting through Pakistan without accepting a tea or some food from someone you don't know well...
It's just the same in India, especially if you're travelling alone, I've been offered food maybe 50+ times and can only think of one time I said no.

Actually, thatís not true, I said no the first 4 or 5 times because I thought that was the polite thing to do, but the look on the faces of the people offering the food had me wandering if I was doing the right thing, so I talked to a few people about it then started accepting the food.

Your experience has alarmed me, but I will still accept the food from strangers, and offer the same (I try to buy too much food for a journey so I can offer it around), but if I have even the slightest worry, I will say no.

But damn, the food offered is normally sooooo nice, home cooked, spicy and offered with a warm smile, and the (normally) families that offer the food seem so happy to be sharing.

Rachael, you seem comfortable with Indian trains (or subcontinent trains), have you noticed the 'whats yours is mine' (& vice versa) attitude of Indians?

I was extremely puzzled (and a little worried) when I first noticed this, I was travelling from Mumbai to Bangalore and was feeling a bit down (it was before I understood India Railways and I had wanted to go to Calcutta, but couldn't get a reservation, out of frustration I just decided on Bangalore), anyway, an Indian family almost adopted me for the journey, they cheered me up and I started to feel really comfortable with them, the father picked up my newspaper without asking and started reading it, one of the sons started drinking my water without asking, the whole family were reading my guidebook and looking at my maps, again, without asking, then I bought a bagful of samosas to share, I tore the bag open and placed them on the table, I was going to offer them around to the family but we were in the middle of a conversation, but the family just started eating them, I was really confused, but never mentioned it to the family.

I later learned that this is a good sign, almost a sign of being accepted by the family, and that I was also supposed to help myself to anything of theirs without asking, this has since happened on many train journeys and I have just waited for their lead, then helped myself to their food, it's an amazingly comfortable way to travel (in an inner comfort kind of way), and nobody even notices me helping myself to the food, as if that's how it should be, kind of like travelling with your own family.
#13 Jun 29th, 2007, 12:45
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#13
When you are caught in a situation where you are offered something which you don't trust but can't refuse as well, you can try offer a portion of it to the offerer. Its a warm gesture in India to share what you have.

If its tea, then offer half in a saucer, biscuit.. break and offer a half. The reaction of offerer will help you judge whether to take plunge or not.
#14 Jun 29th, 2007, 14:26
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First and foremost, regardless of the country or the culture, be it an Indian village or a five-star New York hotel, even your own doorstep, it is the business of the conman to seem reliable, friendly and trustworthy and to negate any instinct that might rise against them. If they can not do this they don't have a 'job'!

Many victims say they never suspected a thing; others say they wish they'd listened to that tiny doubt.

I'm not so sure about offering half the biscuit, particularly after you have dipped it in the tea! Many Indians would not eat something after it has been touched, and certainly not after it has been dipped in tea that people have been drinking. This may be old-fashioned, but is still very much alive and well as custom. Doing this turns the cultural tables on your travelling companion: do they accept something that has now, for them, become unclean, or do they risk offending you?!
#15 Jun 29th, 2007, 22:15
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#15
Accepting food from strangers is probably not a high percentage practice in your home country ..... so why would it be in India? It's much safer to get your food from one source rather than to constantly engage in some sort of Indian Dim Sum routine when travelling or mingling socially with strangers.

It would be interesting to hear the feelings/thoughts of Indians on how they approach this social food sharing/swapping AND what social, hygienic and/or caste factor cues make them eventually draw the line on it all?
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