A replica of the Nobel Peace Prize and its citation awarded to child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi were among the valuables stolen from his southeast Delhi residence in his absence on Tuesday.
In a statement, Satyarthi, who along with his wife is currently in Panama on the invitation of its President, implored the people involved in the early morning act to understand the significance of the award and not get carried away by its monetary value.
Satyarthi had presented his Nobel Peace Prize medal to President Pranab Mukherjee in January, 2015. The original medal has been preserved and is now on display at the Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum, his office said.
Police said the theft came to light when Rakesh Sengar of Satyarthi's NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan went to take his car from the activist's Kalkaji residence Aravalli apartment around 9 am.
"I had gone there around 9 am. I saw the dhobi (washerman) knocking the door which was surprisingly open. When I entered the flat, I found things scattered all over (in Satyarthi's bedroom). The locker was also broken.
"The replica of the Nobel, which is as good as the original, and the citation are missing along with a host of other mementos from around the world and some jewellery. A similar theft had occurred in BBA's Kalkaji office in 2010," Sengar said.
Police said it appears that the burglars had come with an intention only to rob jewellery as the other expensive items were left untouched. They must have mistook the replica as a jewellery item, a senior officer said.
"The Nobel Prize citation and the replica were kept in jewellery boxes and we suspect that the burglars took them away thinking it to be jewels. It's a specific modus operandi," said the officer.
Satyarthi's son, Bhuvan Ribhu, a senior Supreme Court lawyer and the national secretary of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, said, "Sengar informed me about the incident. It appeared that they were looking for something specific. They also took some ancestral jewellery. For someone who continues to stay in a DDA flat, the news was shattering. Satyarthi is returning (to the country) on the 10th," he said.
After police were informed about the alleged theft of the Nobel Prize replica, teams from Forensic Science Laboratory, dog squads and district crime unit inspected the spot and collected fingerprints.
Police said all the lockers of the master bedroom have been broken and it is suspected that the burglary took place in the wee hours on Tuesday.
The child rights activist won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. He shared the prize with Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai.
Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel Prize medal had been stolen in 2004 from Visva Bharati University's museum in Santiniketan in West Bengal, which is yet to be recovered.
Police said that the entry gate near Satyarthi's residence was unmanned.
"There are 17 entry gates to enter the residential complex that houses Satyarthi's flat that is located on the ground floor. Out of the 17 entry gates, 10 are always open. There are only three guards who man the gates. It has been found that the entry gate near his residence was unmanned," said the senior police officer.
Despite the presence of CCTV cameras, police do not have much of video evidence since many cameras weren't working.
"Five CCTV cameras weren't in working condition. Around two-three cameras are in working condition and we are looking at footage to gain clues," he said.
Delhi Police's Crime Branch is also assisting the local police in the probe.
Two other houses in the same area as Satyarthi's have also been broken into.
"All the houses that were broken into were locked. Someone might have given the input about the houses that have been locked for days since only those houses have been broken into that were locked," said the officer, adding that the "maximum vandalism" happened in the Nobel laureate's house.
It is suspected that the gang that is involved in the burglary entered the residential area on some pretext during the day and conducted a reccee to see the houses that were locked. Police suspect that the information that there was no one at the houses might have been leaked by someone from the society like a milkman or a newspaper delivery boy.
Police have started questioning the jewellery dealers in the area. Burglars, who specifically steal jewellery, have been rounded up for investigation.
"My Nobel Prize belongs to my country and its children. I appeal to the conscience of the people involved to understand its significance and not get distracted by its monetary value. A police probe has been initiated and I have complete faith in the authorities and the legal bodies of our country," Satyarthi said in the statement.