But raid and robbery rob the sheen of their ‘courier service’ between Mumbai and Gujarat

Monday to Friday, in the heart of the bustling Bhuleshwar Market in South Mumbai, members of a unique courier service congregate. The Angadias, a small community dedicated to ferrying cash and jewellery between Mumbai and Gujarat, are at their busiest.

The Angadias deposit their high-value parcels in open trucks, which are then escorted by the police to the Mumbai Central railway station. With clockwork precision, armed guards appear and help the Angadias transfer the items to the Gujarat Mail that departs at 10 p.m. Once it reaches its destination in Surat or Ahmedabad, a similar ritual is followed to unload the parcels.

A daring heist on an Angadia right inside the Bhuleshwar Market earlier this week has put the spotlight on this low-profile community. A group of seven men snatched a parcel of jewellery and cash estimated at over Rs. 1 lakh, fired at the Angadia and fled. The attack has shaken the community.

“Angadias are an integral part of our business. It is through them that parcels can be delivered swiftly to far-flung villages,” Prithviraj Kothari, spokesperson of All India Bullion and Jewellery Association Ltd., says. “We have written to the State Home Ministry asking for security for Angadias on their trucks.”

This informal and highly trusted courier service transfers cash and jewellery worth at least Rs. 10 crore daily. It is dominated by Gujaratis and Rajasthanis and the trade is passed on from father to son.

“My great grandfather was an Angadia. After Independence when money orders were expensive, Gujaratis working in Mumbai used Angadias to send money to their families,” said a member of the community who did not want to be identified.

The word Angadia originates from the Sanskrit word Anga, which means body. The word loosely means people who carry items on their bodies.

Last year, the Angadia trade took another hit with an income tax raid on their trucks in Mumbai. The tax authorities recovered unaccounted cash and jewellery worth around Rs. 4 crore. This incident has exposed the darker side of the trade. A section of Angadias are allegedly involved in hawala dealings catering to a clientele including businessmen, traders and even politicians. Sources say that for every Rs. 1,000 of black money transferred, Angadias take a one per cent commission.

After the income tax raid, the Angadia business took a hit. “There is at least a 50 per cent drop in the business. Many clients fear they will be exposed and have snapped communication with us,” an Angadia from the Bhuleshwar Market said on condition of anonymity.

After the raid, the Mumbai police became stricter with the community. Angadias are now asked to disclose details of the items they transport.

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