Mumbai's big secret: A night market for stolen shoes at Dedh Gully

Jan 11, 2016, 10:30 IST | Bhupen Patel

How shoes stolen from temples, gurudwaras, churches, mosques, and wedding venues has now burgeoned into a parallel economy running into crores

Dedh Gully in Kamathipura is one of Mumbai’s best-kept secrets. It is here that shoes stolen from temples, gurudwaras, churches, mosques, and wedding venues end up. In a weeklong investigation, mid-day has found that what started as a niche bazaar has now burgeoned into a parallel economy running into crores.

Small market has now burgeoned to around 70 stalls, each stocking an average of 100 shoes a night. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Small market has now burgeoned to around 70 stalls, each stocking an average of 100 shoes a night. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

With Dedh Gully no more remaining Mumbai’s little secret, youngsters and college-goers from as far as Ambernath, Kalyan and Raigad flock here looking for a good bargain. The small market has now burgeoned to around 70 stalls, each stocking an average of 100 shoes a night.

And with people seldom filing complaints for stolen footwear, there is little the cops can do. They are, however, worried by the spike in the number of shoe-stealing incidents around the city.

Mustaq Khan, a resident of Kamathipura who has seen the market expand, said, “The way these youngsters keep pouring in to buy shoes is really worrying. It has gone up to 90 percent in last five to six years. It has become a nuisance for the locals staying here. Till some years ago, there were very few stalls in the area but it is now beyond imagination.”

Jootachors of Mumbai
mid-day interviewed some foot soldiers who have been in the business for six to seven years. Unlike pickpockets of beggars, there is no gang or group. Each individual operates in his own area. Religious places are their favourite targets. Often, guards and minders contracted by the temple trust are in connivance. (One such minder was arrested from Haji Ali last year for stealing a policeman’s shoes worth Rs 4,000)

Buyers head to Dedh Gully at night to buy the stolen shoes. Pic: Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Another bunch of thieves specialise in stealing footwear from residential and commercial complexes, especially in south Mumbai and the western suburbs. These thieves work in teams of two — while one lifts shoes, the other carries bags to stash them. (Last Match, the Kalachowkie police arrested a shoe thief with the help of CCTV footage that caught him breaking open a wooden shoe rack in a residential building.)

These thieves operate in Juhu Andheri, Lokhandwala and other posh localities of Mumbai. They also target Gujarati and Marwari dominated areas like VP Road, Bhuleshwar and Masjid Bunder.

The third category targets only long distance trains like the Rajdhani. One of them buys a first class AC ticket, while an associate travels in sleeper class. The first thief picks up shoes while the commuters are asleep and gives it to the man in sleeper class. Once their nightly target is achieved, the duo gets down at any station and returns to Mumbai.

Malkhaus (middlemen)
Once shoes are stolen, the thieves approach the fencers. These middlemen buy the stolen shoes at a nominal rate and sell it to hawkers near Chor Bazaar after marking them up by 30 per cent to 40 per cent, which they pocket. There are only a handful of Malkhaus in Mumbai and they are the mainstay of the parallel economy. There are about 70 hawkers, who sell the stolen wares in a lane called Dedh Gully near Chor Bazaar. Some hawkers buy shoes directly from the thieves, while the brave among them venture out and steal their own shoes.

When the rest of the city is fast asleep, a remote street in south Mumbai is abuzz with hundreds of youngsters, coming from all parts of Mumbai, its outskirts. The street in Kamathipura 1st lane is popularly called Dedh Gully.

People flock at the stalls looking for a good bargain.  Pic: Sayyed Sameer Abedi

The market operates only between 4 am and 8 am on Fridays and Sundays. The youngsters who have arrived by the last local or the first train in the morning throng lane to pick up the best deals on shoes. The buyers are mostly college students who cannot afford the latest fashion brands and come from all parts of Mumbai, and even neighbouring Dahanu, Vasai-Virar, Palghar and Pen. Taxis outside Sandhurst Road charge the shoppers Rs 10/seat to drop them off at Dedh Gully.

“Middle-class and the lower middle-class boys who can’t afford expensive brands find them here for just couple of thousands,” said a hawker who runs a stall.

Many of these hawkers are local residents. Entire families are involved, with stalls being manned by housewives, boys and even senior citizens. The families work between 3 am and 8 am, before getting back to their routine jobs.

They put up their stalls in their verandahs so they don’t have to rent hawking space. They just shell out a couple of hundred rupees to the local police and BMC officers.

One night last week, when this reporter pointed to a police van entering the market, the hawker was dismissive. “Bhai daro mat,” he said. “Yeh bhi joota lene aye hain (Don’t be scared, the policemen too are here to buy shoes).” During those few hours, some stalls and shops also peddle jeans and garments. Some sell tea, fruits and cold drinks to the shoppers. The hawkers said each stall owner earns approximately R20,000 to 25,000 a day.Just name the brand and you will find the hawker will help you find it from the pile of shoes. Brands like CAT, Nike, Woodland, Lee Cooper are the most common.

Some hawkers also mix fake copies with genuine stolen brands to confuse buyers. “Only regular visitor can differentiate and get a good deal. Mostly, the hawkers cheat new visitors by charging exorbitant rates,” said Arvin Prajapati, a buyer from Shastri Nagar, Thane.

‘I stole a superstar’s shoe’
Ismail Shaikh, 27 (name changed), has been selling movie tickets at New Roshan theatre in Kamathipura since the early nineties. In 2008, Ismail told his close friend Nazare Alam about his financial woes. Alam introduced Ismail to the world of shoe-lifting.

“I have been doing this for seven years now. With four daughters and a wife to take care of, it was next to impossible to survive on the what I used to get while working at the theatre,” he said.

Ismail’s gambling addiction is another problem. “There are many shoe-lifters who have bought small flats with the money. But I lost everything in the poker machines. But I give a small portion to my family, which helps my wife run the house after paying for my daughter’s education.”

In his seven years of crime, Ismail was arrested only once. In July 2015, while he broke open the wooden cupboard in a residential area of Kalachowkie. Residents caught him and handed him over to the police.

Ismail said, “I was lodged in jail for five months. I was set free just three months ago in November 2015. I have tried to quit, but this is also like an addiction. Once my friend took me to the sets of Film City in Goregaon to get me a job. I waited for almost half a day and in the afternoon, I walked away with a shoe of a superstar in my bag. I got Rs 500 that day,” said Ismail, with a smirk on his face.

‘If caught we should be ready for a few slaps. No one bothers to file a case.’
Ganesh (name changed) came from his hometown in UP with the dream of making it big in the city and started working in a hotel. “The hotel in south Mumbai gave me few hundreds and even took care of my food and shelter. But it involved a lot of hard work. I was made to work day and night,” said Ganesh. Just as he had given up and decided to return to his village, Ganesh met a handicapped local named Sarfaraz Alam.

“I knew he was one of the prominent ‘jootachors’ of south Mumbai. He told me to accompany him one day. He took me to a residential area near Charni Road and asked me to wait near the corridor. Soon he came towards me with pair of shoe. I was shaking in fear. Somehow I managed to come out of that place.”

That day, Ganesh received money worth half his month’s salary. There was no looking back. Before he realized what he was doing was criminal, Ganesh had become an expert. In less than a month he started venturing out on his own.

“There was no fear since there is never a complaint and hence investigation,” he said. “I knew even if I get caught, I will receive some blows and will be let off.”

A few years ago, Shankar got married to a girl chosen by his parents. The birth of his first child ended his time in the trade. “I was rounded up by the Crime Branch some months ago while they were looking for some other thief. I was beaten up before they realized I was the wrong man. That was the end of my crime stint,” said Ganesh.


This is the second time I have come here. We took the last rain since we do not have an option to reach the market early in the morning. By then, the good stuff is already sold out. It is better to reach early and hang around near the area rather than returning empty-handed.
– Pratik Mhatre has come from Vadkhal village in Pen. This is his second trip to Dedh Gully.

We have just a couple of days before resuming duty so we thought of doing some shopping. 
– Seaman Anirudh Tiwari from Uttaranchal, who is currently staying in Nerul on a break

This is the third visit. We are waiting here for more friends who will reach by the last local.
– Raj Patil, supplier of building material from Panvel, who has come with four friends in the second last train.

BEST buys

Wolverine Men's Merlin-M Composite Safety Toe Boot: Price: Rs 18,000 
At Dedh Gully: Rs 3,000

Price: Rs 8,000 
At Dedh Gully: Rs 1,500

CAT Men’s leather boots: Price: Rs 4,000 
At Dedh Gully: Rs 800

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