‘Photo please’ extortionists

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#1 Jan 20th, 2007, 12:25
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  • lotus blossom is offline
#1
I visited the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi yesterday. Thought I’d pass along my experience.

I arrived just as prayers were about to begin, so was told (gruffly I might add) to leave, to get completely off the premises. So, I ambled about the perimeter of the mosque, camera in hand, waiting for 2 o’clock when I was told I could come back.

As per my usual practice, I was careful about taking photos, generally asking before pointing and shooting at anyone. When a smiling group of school girls went by in a cycle rickshaw and intimated that they wanted me to take their photograph I was, of course, happy to. An old man, having seen their excitement and wanting to be a part of that, gestured for me to take his photo. I did. Another man followed suit.

After walking on a bit, I stood outside the mosque, taking photos of the area. Further on, three young boys were flitting about my camera; two of them wanted to have their picture taken. Afterwards, they asked me for money. I declined. They followed me, giggling and asking me to take another photo for a moment or two before journeying on.

By this point I was no longer on the perimeter of the mosque, but still on a main road, (a few hundred yards beyond the mosque) when a boy asked me to take his photo. Now, normally, I’m generally happy to take photos of those who ask, knowing how much they love it, especially when they get to see themselves in the camera. I hesitated, however, after the older woman standing to his right waved me away when I pointed to my camera and then to her, to ask her permission. I had started to move on when the young boy, of perhaps nine or ten, kept jumping up and down, insistent that I take his photo. I looked at the woman in an effort to ascertain her position on it; she just stood looking at me, so, I snapped his photo and then proceeded to show it to him when he came running towards me.

He then held his hands in the air, all ten fingers pointing up and shouted, ten rupees, ten rupees! I shook my head no and turned to walk away when the woman, hands dripping wet from the dirty bucket that she had them in, came running towards me. She grabbed the strap of my camera (canon 30d) and started pulling it (I often wear the strap wrapped about my arm vs. around my neck). When I tried pulling away from her, she pulled harder while yelling at me about payment. I kept telling her no, looking her directly in the eyes to let her now that I was not intimidated by her. She pinched my arm hard while continuing to pull at my camera, her wet and dirty hands all over me. I pushed her off of me and was able to spin around quickly, briskly moving away from her. She came running after me and grabbed me by my waist, again pinching me very roughly, shouting loudly. I kept walking, back in the direction that I had come from.

Relieved to be away from her, I slightly laughed with the two young guys sitting alongside the road who had been watching the situation. But, not having experienced such a thing before, I was a bit shaken by it. I was not going to be bullied into paying the bribe, however. Had I done so, I would have been surrounded and hounded by all the onlookers! I just stood my ground with her. But had she gotten more violent towards me I’m not sure what I would’ve done.

I went back to the mosque afterwards, sitting on the steps, taking photos for a long while before going inside. There I met an (Indian) guy who, upon watching me take pictures, told me that he photographs for Reuters. We chatted for quite a while about photography, he, wanting to be my guru and tell me how it’s done. When he told me was to just take photos, to not to ask permission I told him the story of the pinching, grabbing woman who tried to bully me into paying her. What if I would have taken her photo without asking? He also told me that he didn’t think it wise for me to be traveling about alone, that someone may try and nick my camera…

To take a camera inside the mosque, you have to pay 200 rupees. I wouldn’t suggest hiding it upon entering and then bringing it out later; you may be asked to show your ticket. Problem was, I wasn’t inside long before getting kicked out since it was time for prayers again. The bigger problem was the hassle that I got from boys wanting me to take their photos.

The first was an adolescent boy with a youngster who asked me to take their photo. I declined initially, but decided to when they asked again, even after I’d gotten burned earlier. The two boys were happy to see their photo and then walked away, but returned a few moments later and asked for a second one. Why not? well, because this time, after taking it, they asked me to pay them. They were not however, insistent when I told them, ‘no’.

Unlike the next young boy of perhaps 11 or 12 who asked me if I had paid the 200 rupees to be taking photos. I told him that I had and asked the pestering youngster to go, to leave me alone. When he kept asking if I did indeed pay, I produced the ticket from my pocket, showed him and then motioned for him to leave, He then insisted that I take his photo and to give him $$ to do so. He then tried to block my camera and told me that it would cost me five rupees per photo of the mosque. Every time that I had my camera pointing at something I was intending to photograph, he would push my arm so that I couldn’t, By this point, I had grown tired of the extortionists and wished that I knew a few choice words in Hindi that I could speak in a forceful manner.

I was saved from the rascal when three men came in at the entrance where I was standing. The kid then started doing this friendly little innocent thing with me, since all eyes were on us. I took the opportunity to get the hell away from him.

A little bit later a group of schoolboys asked me if I’d take their picture. I told them no, even though I felt I could trust them. Maybe it was their school uniforms and bags that they had slung around their shoulders. So, upon their second request, I acquiesced. They were happy to have their photo taken, not even asking to see it afterwards.

Upon seeing me take the photo of them, a man with a couple of boys asked me, demanded, that I take their photo. I said no, walked away and kept on walking despite his pleas with me.

Of course, it wasn’t the end of it. Several street kids begged for their photos, though it was obvious that they’d try and hit me up for money. And another young scoundrel who kept jumping in front of my camera while I was trying to photograph, asking me to take his picture.

Despite the buggers inside the mosque, it is beautiful and was quite magical upon stepping inside from the outside with pigeons flying in a frenzy, the sound of their beating wings as they whisked past me. And then, as I was leaving, the call to prayers came, sending an electric timbre through my body, a moving and extraordinary melody that has always haunted me.

As I left the mosque, I saw a foreign couple being photographed by a young man with a mobile phone. I wondered if he was going to ask them for money afterward. And generally, it was not until after the photo was taken that they asked for payment. I do not know if the other foreigners that I saw there got hassled; it may have been because I was on my own, though it’s the first place where I’ve experienced such a thing. So, if you do visit Jama Masjid, you may want to keep in mind the ‘photo please’ extortionists.
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Not all who wander are lost
Last edited by lotus blossom; Jan 20th, 2007 at 17:38..
#2 Jan 20th, 2007, 12:42
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  • dhans is offline
#2

Relax

Hi Lotus,

You've been on this forum long enough to know what might happen .

I hope writing it down helped it getting out of your system. Have a chai and relax .

We both know these things happen (allthough the physical attacks on me were so far limited to pulling my arm).

Normally I point to the camera with a smiling questioning face and then make the picture, walking off smiling. I never pay, though kids somethings get a sweet or a cookie.

Have fun (again),

Hans

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#3 Jan 20th, 2007, 12:52
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  • lavneetgyani is offline
#3
I am sorry to hear about the ordeal you had - esp since I am a citizen of Delhi. I wonder what the way out is out of this catch-22 situation. You're in trouble if you don't click but in more trouble if you do. I see you are residing in india. Are you Indian? I am a serious amateur photographer and i frequent Old Delhi quite often (esp the camera Market in Chandni Chowk), but have never faced any such problem.(I guess being a rather large Sikh helps )
#4 Jan 20th, 2007, 16:11
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#4
Lotus Blossom... tat really sounds like it could spoil a nice day out.

Sometimes humans do a good job of impersonating mosquitoes!
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#5 Jan 20th, 2007, 17:17
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  • BenV is offline
#5
Well written.

I observed an English couple getting rid of a pestering, extorting boy. They simply told him (in a forceful manner) that they are not new to India and in fact had been in India many times and so know how these things go and that he should stop pulling their leg and to simply bugger off.. After a few seconds of totally ignoring the boy he went off (stupified)..

You can also start talking about bad karma, but that will not work with Muslims, now will it?
#6 Jan 20th, 2007, 18:41
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#6
Quote:
Originally Posted by dhans Hi Lotus,

You've been on this forum long enough to know what might happen .

I hope writing it down helped it getting out of your system. Have a chai and relax .

We both know these things happen (allthough the physical attacks on me were so far limited to pulling my arm).

Normally I point to the camera with a smiling questioning face and then make the picture, walking off smiling. I never pay, though kids somethings get a sweet or a cookie.

Have fun (again),

Hans
The length of time that I’ve been on this forum is immaterial to the experience that I wrote about, which I chose to simply post as an fyi kinda thing. Perhaps I did not properly convey that it was not something that I had experienced prior to visiting the Jama Masjid; therefore my thinking is that it may be something that is happening particularly in that place.

The kids in the mosque were a nuisance, but the woman in the street, she was more than that. If I were to simply “relax” about her bullying posturing towards me, she could have gotten the best of me. Not only was she trying to take my camera, she was also physically abusive towards me. I travel solo, so have no one to watch my back but me.

Posting something “negative” about India is not bashing the place. It’s simply an effort to inform and protect. That’s why I visit this forum.
#7 Jan 20th, 2007, 18:52
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#7
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Originally Posted by lavneetgyani I am sorry to hear about the ordeal you had - esp since I am a citizen of Delhi. I wonder what the way out is out of this catch-22 situation. You're in trouble if you don't click but in more trouble if you do. I see you are residing in india. Are you Indian? I am a serious amateur photographer and i frequent Old Delhi quite often (esp the camera Market in Chandni Chowk), but have never faced any such problem.(I guess being a rather large Sikh helps )
exactly, it was a catch-22 sort of thing. nope, i'm not indian, but in india for a while. maybe adding a few layers of clothing and donning a turban would help

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick-H Lotus Blossom... tat really sounds like it could spoil a nice day out.

Sometimes humans do a good job of impersonating mosquitoes!
yes, sorta made for a trying day, but i try and look at what i can learn from it. maybe it was that i needed to bring a mosquito zapper!

Quote:
Originally Posted by BenV You can also start talking about bad karma, but that will not work with Muslims, now will it?
nah, don't think talking to them about 'bad karma' will. in fact, they may well tell me it's allah's will (enshalla)...
#8 Jan 20th, 2007, 18:55
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#8
Nice to know tht you enjoyed the experience inspite of the idiots there.That woman was way over the line when she tried to grab your camera.Good that you held ground.I can only imagine how annoying it must be if some kid is stopping u frm taking photos and asks for money .
This experience corresponds with another thread where the foreigners mention that getting conned ,cheated and being constantly harassed is one of the sick things that make them loathe India.
#9 Jan 20th, 2007, 18:55
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#9
LB, sorry to hear about your experience. It sounds like more than just a petty scam or annoyance to me.

Single foreign women, single women, single foreigner men, single indian men...in that order... need to be more careful, I guess.

Bottom of that list, with apologies to lavneetgyani: large Sikhs.
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#10 Jan 20th, 2007, 19:13
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#10
Quote:
Originally Posted by batistuta Nice to know tht you enjoyed the experience inspite of the idiots there.That woman was way over the line when she tried to grab your camera.Good that you held ground.I can only imagine how annoying it must be if some kid is stopping u frm taking photos and asks for money .
This experience corresponds with another thread where the foreigners mention that getting conned ,cheated and being constantly harassed is one of the sick things that make them loathe India.
Quote:
Originally Posted by capt_mahajan LB, sorry to hear about your experience. It sounds like more than just a petty scam or annoyance to me.

Single foreign women, single women, single foreigner men, single indian men...in that order... need to be more careful, I guess.

Bottom of that list, with apologies to lavneetgyani: large Sikhs.
thanks for the support guys - sometimes india does start getting the best of my sensitivities.

batistuta - 'over the top', indeed. this is not something i could tell my parents about or they'd probably come and fetch me from india!

capt_mahajan - it felt pretty threatening to me, to be honest. but, i wonder where we draw lines when we travel, in terms of where we wander. i have to admit, when strangers start becoming abusive towards me, the story of stephen bennett is not far from my mind...
#11 Jan 20th, 2007, 20:19
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  • Lugubert is offline
#11
Tall Swede works quite well, too. Sometimes I get tired from all kids asking me to take a photo; sometimes I fall for it. Only once have I given them some small change. But that lot was very cheerful and decidedly poorer than most. In Agra, boys riding a camel shouted for money after my taking a shot at them. I don't remember exactly what I told them - something like how much does the camel ask for.

Once, 187 cm / 85 kg didn't help. That sadhu thing wasn't tall, but was he high! I suspected that he wanted payment afterwards, so I refused to take a photo. He grabbed the camera strap (I didn't have it round my neck)! I tried to pry his fingers loose, but for an Indian he was unusually strong. A small crowd formed, and I was close to asking them how much violence would be permitted. Finlly, I gave the strap a good tug, and I was home. The guy complained that the strap had cut his finger. The spectators didn't react one way or the other, so I just left the scene, in a rather unhurried way but in too long strides for him to follow.
#12 Jan 20th, 2007, 20:25
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#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by lotus blossom it felt pretty threatening to me, to be honest. but, i wonder where we draw lines when we travel, in terms of where we wander. ...
Sometimes the most innocuous of places can be threatening. I got knifed for 15/20 dollars outside a supermarket in Buenaventura, Colombia, in broad daylight.

The situation gets worse when you can't ask for help because you don't know who you can trust, or who else may be involved.

India doesn't normally get life threatening, though. You just have to be careful and trust your instincts.
#13 Jan 20th, 2007, 21:16
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  • lavneetgyani is offline
#13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lugubert but for an Indian he was unusually strong


I'm sure you didn't quite mean that
#14 Jan 20th, 2007, 21:46
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  • abracax is offline
#14

Don't Ask, Don't Explain

It seems to me that the environs of the Jami Masjid in Old Delhi have become the worst place for a ferenghi to be in India. I make it a point not to go in there with a camera anymore, but there are good photos to be had outside. Your photography guru was right - never ask, don't show, don't explain. Photons are free!


New home for my photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abracax/
#15 Jan 20th, 2007, 21:49
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#15
Dear LB,
As being an Indian I must say sorry for the experience you have explained.Delhi people can say better that surroundings of Jama masjid is a notorious place.My personal view is that it is better to ask before photographing as you have done.
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