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Highway Robbery, Onion Thieves, and India's Struggling Economy


A minitruck driver and his teenage helper were on a routine trip along a highway in India’s northwest last weekend when, all of a sudden, three men forced the truck to a halt, overpowered the driver, and took off. The robbers’ booty? Onions.

The onion thieves are still at large, but their motive is clear. “Onion prices are so high, it makes sense,” a police officer from a town near Jaipur told the NYT. Onion prices have risen 114 percent in the year to July 2013, according to official figures. The stash in the stolen truck would have brought the thieves as much as $10,800, says the Times.

“India’s perennial battle with inflation is enshrined in a humble staple: the onion,” Bloomberg reported late last month. The price of onions is an important gauge used by Indian consumers to gauge the health of the economy. Whether because of shortages or inflation or bad weather, when onion prices increase, poor consumers suffer. Right now, onion prices are high because the purchasing power of the rupee is so low. On Wednesday, the rupee hit another new record low against the dollar. With onion prices inching closer to 100 rupees per kilo, it’s no wonder the highway thieves saw a cart-full as a valuable prize. “A bag of onions in my hand has a greater chance of being stolen than a ring or a bracelet,” a Delhi woman told the Times.

Onions also play an outsize role in Indian politics. Several times during elections, high onion prices have been turned into campaign issues by political parties. This week, the BJP, India’s largest opposition party, opened special stalls across the country where onions are sold at below-market prices in an attempt to embarrass the ruling Congress Party, and a BJP lawmaker reportedly attempted to deposit onions at a bank last week.

It seems that once again the humble onion is not only a symbol of India’s stuttering economy but a political tool in what promises to be an interesting, hotly contested election coming up next year.

[Onion truck image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Atanu Maulik

    Never underestimate the power of onions.

    • Corlyss

      Amen! Remarkably intelligent people, those Indians, to so esteem the onion.

  • Vadim Pashkov

    100 R = 1.6$ It would make onion prices higher than in San Francisco, California

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