Why Phone Cameras are the Bane of Modern India

by Sharell शारेल on August 18, 2013

in Daily Life in India

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Yesterday, I wrote a humorous blog post about friendship requests from Indian Internet Romeos on Facebook. However, today, I stumbled upon something much more serious in regards to unwanted attention from Indian men — a formal written complaint to the Maharashra Tourism Minister about sexual harassment at heritage attractions around Aurangabad.

Indian citizen and resident of Aurangabad, Natasha Zarine, posted the letter that she sent to the Minister on her Facebook profile along with pictures of the offenders (shown here). And, it’s disturbing to say the least.

In the letter, Natasha details the appalling behaviour that she and the foreign women whom she was with encountered at the Ajanta, Ellora and Pitttalkhora Caves, Daulatabad Fort, and Soi Gaon Fort.

Here is an extract from her letter:

Over the past few months, when I visited the sites mentioned above with some of my women friends, we were shocked and disappointed to find that we were being mocked at, sexually harassed and intimidated by the other visitors to the area. Not only was this behaviour meted out to us, but also to foreign tourists who were visiting these monuments. The offensive actions can be classified into the following categories:

1. Cat calling, shouting and yelling obscenities in Hindi and Marathi at us.
2. Making animalistic sounds when we passed by.
3. Coming up to us and asking offensive & intrusive questions.
4. Taking our photographs & videos on cell phones without our permission, even after we objected.
5. Ganging up against us if we objected or confronted such behaviour.

Let me give you an example of what one young person came up to me and said, “hello how are you?”, he kept repeating this till I answered, “Fine thank you”, to which he said, “Fine thank you – teri maa ki ch**t”

In another disgraceful incident, my friend’s blond hair was touched & pulled by some children while their parents tried to take her picture without her permission.

While we entered the ‘Andheri’ in the Daulatabad fort, a group of young men surrounded us and began shouting, hooting and yelling at the top of their voices.

At every stage our pictures were being clicked by strangers, I asked one person to stop clicking us , to which he came exceedingly close to me and thrust his phone in my face and said in Hindi, “I will take the picture, what will you do?”

She goes on to say that the guards who witnessed the events did absolutely nothing to help them.

Having experienced similar harassment myself, where I was leered at and photographed by groups of guys with phone cameras at Maheshwar early this year, reading about what happened to Natasha and her friends brought back the strong emotions of anger and violation that I felt for months afterwards.

In case you’ve never been the subject of attention of Indian men and their phone cameras, just take a look at the photo below. Can you imagine how the poor woman feels to be confronted with this? A barricade of barbarian men pointing their cameras at her. And, such a scenario is not rare! It’s alarmingly very common at tourist attractions across India.

Guys blocking the way with their phone cameras.

One of Natasha's photos: Guys blocking the way with their phone cameras.

With phone cameras having become accessible to the masses in India, this is what sexual harassment has turned into. Packs of filthy men photographing women at will, while guards stand around ignoring it.

I wrote about the issue on my About.com India Travel site and I’m writing about it here to raise as much awareness as possible, which is what Natasha wanted to do, in the hope that the complaint is taken seriously and actioned. It’s commendable that she’s spoken out about her experience and appealed to the government to do something about it. She’s mentioned that the Aurangabad Commissioner of Police has called a meeting to discuss it tomorrow, which is encouraging. I only hope that the Maharashtra Tourism Minister takes the matter just as seriously and implements the measures that Natasha has suggested in her letter to curb the menace.

This behaviour from men is sickening and depraved, and not only is it ruining India as a tourist destination, it’s giving Indian men a bad name worldwide as foreigners no doubt recount their horrific experiences.

58 people like this post.
© Copyright 2013 Sharell शारेल, Diary of a White Indian Housewife 2008-2014. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

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{ 267 comments… read them below or add one }

Rahul August 24, 2013 at 10:08 am

The average Indian man is very cheap and thirdclass from both behaviour and from looks. I feel so ashamed that i was born here. I wish i was born in any other country except India. My suggestion to white/western women is never to come to India. India’s got nothing to offer. All that “Incredible India” ad campaign are a waste of time. BTW those dudes in the pic look so ugly that i would’nt hesitate throwing them off to their deaths.

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Millie B August 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Hi Sharell – I think you replied to my question about tourism in India but for some reason comments, with the exception of Rahul August 24 at 10:08, are not showing. Anyway just wanted to let you know and thank you for replying :)

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Smitha August 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Sharell, looks like the “Previous Comments” link is also not working.!

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Anunoy Samanta August 26, 2013 at 12:35 am

It’s totally unacceptable human behavior. Being an Indian man myself I can only be ashamed of it and try to dissolve the over-curious snappers whenever I encounter them. Last I did, as far as I remember, was in Qutub Minar… I was traveling solo with my camera inside the qutub minar complex where 3-4 street brats almost pleaded a white lady in skimpy clothes to take photo with them one by one and to my surprise she smilingly agreed withour trying to read their crooked smiles of achievement… I was irritated but seeing her at ease and in company with other co-travelers (both men and women) I let it go…

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Ashish August 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Embarrassed! Embarrassed! Embarrassed!
That’s all i got to say! Ask me and i’ll give you a much better idea about their personalities rather than what you can understand from their acts. They are perverts with no manners at all. Instead of doing something creative for the society or themselves, they spend time in parks or tourist sites drinking beer if money is available and watching porn movies on their cellphones. Take out a SD CARD from one phone and you will find it full of porn movies. That’s what their lives are all about. Its Just their mentality but i won’t say don’t come to India or things like that as Rahul has said. India is a beautiful place and its not like Afghanistan or Chechanya or Iraq, that you have to worry about civil wars. Bad guys are part of every society just like two sides of a coin, even though that is not a excuse for their existence but still they are every where in every nation and you can’t leave this planet because they are everywhere. So with some precaution and safety measures you can avoid them and enjoy the beauty of this world. Being an Indian i love my nation, i am proud of it yet there are some serious changes the society needs. Hope you guys understand it!

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mangesh October 26, 2013 at 7:43 am

You are absolutely right AShish…I appreciate you opinion …. fantastic.

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Sara August 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm

I, and my kids, have had photos taken at tourist sites, museums, street corners for no particular reason, shopping malls and more. And its not just men, the women do it too. It makes you feel like a zoo animal. Especially when they encourage their kids to come up and pet you (usually your hair).

We try and be as polite as possible when asking them not to, and state that the Consulate has asked us not to because of passport issues (its a bizarre comment i know, but strangely enough effective on about 60% of the photo takers).

As for catcallers, try asking them calmly in Hindi (or the local language) if their mother knows that they use language like that. Gets rid of about 50
% of them.

And if they try and grab you or your breasts or privates (had this happen at several crowded markets unfortunately), I recommend turning on them at the top of your lungs. The fact that the whole market turns to stare at the two of you usually backs them off pretty quickly.

Should also mention what was told to us by a police friend on this – try not to let people take photos of your kids, its a security risk – if they were later to try and snatch the child, and someone questions them about it, all they have to do is show the photo on the phone and say “But its my niece/nephew” or whatever.

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Pardis August 27, 2013 at 4:30 am

I was in delhi feb 2013… i haven’t experienced such these things in delhi… ya ppl stare at me or guys stare at my boobs but clicking photo without permission?NO some guys just respectfully asked me if i wanna click photo with them … not real problem…

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K August 28, 2013 at 3:23 pm

It sounds very frightening and dangerous because the men have no thought of wrong doing. The are setting the same example for their sons. This gang mentality and perversion are what LEDs to gang rape or gang fights. It sounds like the guards at tourist sites look the other way. It’s simply not safe to be there. It saddens me because I’d love to visit, and because I like any of the people I work with that re from India and have much respect for them. I can’t imagine their having any connection to the bad men that do these things.

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K August 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm

The comment should read ….what leads to gang rape….and also I like “many” of the people…, that re from India…

Typing on ipad

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Manny August 31, 2013 at 1:14 am
SD August 31, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I feel like the article you have written is far too soft and doesn’t really enforce any solution to what must be done to the harassment women (of all kinds) face in India. I’d imagine it must be far worse on foreign women (meaning white skin). And what angers me is that such hooligans and camera rapists end up representing the average Indian male…..someone like me. I have analyzed this issue several times with my wife as to what is wrong with Indians when it comes to preventing such stares and harassment into escalation.

1) Indians are desensitized. Indians, anywhere in India, never stand up for anyone besides themselves or their families. You can call this a broad generalization or whatever you want, but the fact remains that Indians don’t feel pity, sympathy or pain towards anyone going through hell – whether it is a girl getting raped, a man dying on the streets, a tourist being yelled out her whole anatomy or a dog being unable to cross the street due to arrogant and unconcerned four wheel drivers. In general, we are never taught how to live in a society. We are never taught to respect our neighbors, to respect strangers, to stand up for others rights or to stop nuisance and anti social elements. We are taught day in and day out how to become successful in our careers and how the world doesn’t matter and how no one will feed you if you don’t have money. While that is partially a sensible goal, what is a part of us is the society we live in. If your neighbor shits and throws his garbage on the street, we cannot complain because he will tell us “baap ka road hai kya???” (translation: this road belongs to your father???”) We are not taught how to deal as a community with such bastards. We are told to ignore it or the neighbor can damage your home, rob your house or worse, physically harm you. We are taught to only keep our own homes clean. We are not asked to give a damn about anyone else but ourselves. This is the reason no one stands up for anyone else. No one will walk up to these sexually deviated men and slap them on the face and threaten to kick their balls and it is not because we don’t see it, WE JUST DON’T GIVE A SHIT!

2) Law enforcement and Law enforcers: Do they exist? Even if they do, from the neighborhood security guards to the security where tourists frequent, THEY DON’T GIVE A SHIT! Well, they do if you throw a few hundred or thousand rupees on them. And whats worse is that they have the lamest form of enforcing discipline and order. They themselves are scared of the hooligans. They are not equipped to deal with such incidences because they have never dealt with such incidences. I’m sorry, they DO NOT WANT to deal with such incidences. They don’t have pepper spray, tazers, guns…equipments which could very well deter off these criminals from ever contemplating to have their way.

3) The punishment never fits the crime: Whatever happened to the Delhi rape case rapists. Did they get any punishment? Or are they just locked up? It’s about time the Indian Government set an example! It’s about time India introduces the death penalty for rapists. I’m not suggesting castration of rapists (or maybe I am) but let the punishment be so severe that no man ever thinks of even going near a woman with evil intentions. Now we have our plates full with new rapes, molestation and an army of “white” women slinging shit towards Indian men on CNN. We are labeled as a country that encourages and supports degradation and harassment of women. Although this has been happening before Twitter, Facebook, CNN, BBC and cell phones existed, I find it ridiculous that despite mass media in our pockets, these crimes still occur.

And while I can whine and complain about everyone, what am I doing? I hope to make a difference….by carrying a gun wherever I go. Sorry guys, but it’s come down to this :)

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Sharell शारेल August 31, 2013 at 9:27 pm

There is a lot of food for thought here, SD. Thanks very much for raising these points.

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Rebecca August 31, 2013 at 10:18 pm

The present horrible state of security for women tourists in India has been thoroughly lamented on this blog and elsewhere. Now, what are the solutions to fixing this problem?

The best that India has to offer was either produced by dead Indians that lived centuries ago or the current private market players in India. If the Indian tourism industry cares at all about its survival and prosperity I think it should take action and offer bodyguards to women tourists (both Indian and non-Indian). This may not send the best message to the world about the safety of tourism in India but will likely ensure protection of female tourists. In fact this is already being done, see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/23/tourists-to-india-hire-bodyguards

Another suggestion for action is for owners of tourism-dependent busineses (hotels, restaurants, retail shops, etc.) to organize and start patrols of private security guards of tourist areas and sites to scare off the aholes that are ruining India’s reputation abroad.

Does anyone have other suggestions to improve this situation?

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Sowmya September 4, 2013 at 6:01 am

Sharell, it speaks highly of your character that even in the face of adversity and harassment, you still recognize that a life in India has given you the opportunity to fall in love, explore your creativity and pursue and achieve your dreams. It takes an immense amount of courage and determination to live in a country that constantly challenges you. Thank you for letting all of us tag along with you on your journey. :)

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Sharell शारेल September 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

Thank you so much for such a lovely and encouraging comment, Sowmya. In my first year in Mumbai, I had to decide whether to stay or go because I was struggling so much with the challenges… I decided love, creativity, passion and dreams are what’s most important. And the challenges have built strength. I’m a lot more assertive, adaptable, and understanding than I used to be.

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Carmen September 13, 2013 at 11:11 am

Every time I got to Agra to take visitors to see the Taj, most of the time everyone is respectful. But the trip to the Red Fort always seems to sour the day. Unlike the Taj, it seems like “locals” just go in there just to sit there and not look around. There are many young men just taking pictures of tourists and acting rudely. A lawn maintence man stopping mowing the lawn, took out his camera, and took a picture of my sister and I. I made sure that my sister was dressed in a very conservative manner as I have learned to dress here as well. But that did not deter gawkers and rude behavior. I told my husband that I will not go back to the Red Fort again. And it’s a shame cause it could be so different if the guards and employees made these persons either act right or get out.

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Yeshi September 18, 2013 at 1:43 pm

This isn’t an easy issue. I have to say that when my little one and I traveled in India, we were helped often. It was such a contrast to when I was 23 and traveling alone.

In defense of Indian men, there are some really good ones. There are some wretched, violent sexual predators that are American. India doesn’t own the market for sex and violent crimes against women. It’s A WORLDWIDE PROBLEM. India’s big problem is corruption, but between now and 2001/2002, things have changed so much there.

I asked a therapist that treats victims of sex crimes how to protect my daughter from being raped…she said that statistically girls are abused by people they know; friends of the family, acquaintances, etc. She has a parent that isn’t accessible(won’t listen, busy, bad boundaries, ignorant), and the perpetrator has access to the victim. I haven’t yet asked her what she was taught regarding gang rape but she did say that rape isn’t generally about sex, it’s about power over with violence.

Women can be abusers too; they can rape men and boys as well as
molest boys. We can’t just blame men. Women also need to raise our sons better. People that have been abused don’t necessarily go on to become abusers.

It is frustrating that the police in India can be ineffectual. I think publicizing and berating/speaking out against violence and sex abuse is good. It makes people aware.

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Ania September 20, 2013 at 12:26 am

While I wholeheartedly agree ( having experience such behavior many times) that there is nothing more frustrating or enraging, men are not the only ones to blame. Of course sexual harassment is a huge issue nowadays but sometimes I wonder if that’s the base of this unhealthy interest and aggression? think about Indian families pointing foreigners to their children, teaching them to stare and comment out loud, touch and click pictures as if in the zoo! Surrounded by this kind of behavior, with government stubbornly stating that harassment is caused and provoked by women, sadly I’m no longer shocked by these acts!

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Smritilekha Chakraborty September 30, 2013 at 9:54 am

This disgusting behaviour is not just towards White women; it’s towards any woman. Being an Indian female does not spare me from their glares.
Since there’s nothing I can do about it; I’ve tried to reason with it. These men are obviously poor & happens to be armed with a toy in the form of a Camera Phone. In the absence of other formidable amusements in life; they try to get maximum pleasure out of their phones. And hence, that is a nuisance!
And of course these men do not want to miss out on their once in a lifetime opportunity to ‘capture a White woman’ in their camera!
So, ‘say cheese’ & don’t smile! ;-)

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Amit K October 14, 2013 at 10:59 am

Hi Sharell,

Everyday in Newspapers and News Channels there are news of harassment against women in India. And it makes me feel very sad. ashamed. The same way I am feeling sad after reading this post. I will not say ashamed as I am sure that number of these people are way less than good ones. So, I am proud to be an Indian man for the good things we have.

I am not completely against clicking the photos with other people (esp foreigners) as curiosity is natural but only if they give you permission to do so. As you know india is such a huge country with such a huge population with people of different cultures and backgrounds. A large number of this population are young. Most of these younger fellows never encounter foreigners (esp white skinned) in their daily life. The only chance they see whites in movies or porns. I am sure you would be agreeing with me at this point. You know when I was in my teens may be 16 or 17 in 2000 I had visited Delhi first time and had seen whites or even blacks tourists first. I was kind of fascinated and curious (and a innocent small town guy). So, when I went to Red Fort and Qutoob minar, I did click few of my photographs with some foreigner tourists with their permission of course. A lot of other people were doing the same but they were also asking for the permission first.Not many people had mobiles at that time so camera phone is not in question.

Now the camera phones are so common. These guy think “why they should take the permission to click a pic”. I believe most of these pics are to be shown around friends as family, “Hey, look I am with a foreigner” and to be kept as a sweet memory forever. However, there are some creepy guy who use these pics for other reasons. You never can get to know whats going in in others mind. But I guess this kind of creepy guys are everywhere and not just in India.

The few solution I am think about sending to the Tourism Ministry of India>

1. Ban ad fine unwanted picture click without permission for all (Indian and Foreign tourists)
2. Impose heavy fines and imprisonment for the offender
3. Post these warnings on every tourist place in English, Hindi and Local Language
4. Create a separate Tourist police department which directly reports Tourism Ministry and have rights to arrest and charge sanctions.
5. Train these tourism police personals to behave with tourists and empathize their problems.

P.S. I had an school time English teacher who had shifted to Norway for some years. She was living in a remote Norwegian town where number of Indians was almost none. So wherever she went people (white Norwegian of all age groups) stared her all the time. Children would come near here and rub her skin and black hairs to see if shes really dark than then or shes using some color. Now this is because they had never saw a dark person in real. Same applies a number of time in India as well.
I guess this would reduce the number of unwanted clicks.

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Prasun October 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

First of all Sharell you are doing a wonderful job.
I read a lot of comments, numerous different point of views, maybe photos are not clicked for bad purposses but should not be done without consent.
When we talk about crime(sexual) against women, India is far better than western developed countries where our tourists come from. But its no reason to justify what we do. One of the thing is that we Indians are not sexually satisfied in this era of internet and porn which makes whites and fairer indian womens a sex symbol for some of those guys. What should be done…
India needs to accept sex socially, may be few years later or decades but its the need of time.
There are lot of other reasons to say against what is happening with tourists in India but I dont think I should repeat them.

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Penfold October 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

Hi Sheril,

I just saw this on BBC news and thought of the idea we had. Its already been done… http://safecity.in/ .. click on the map hotspots, and view the reports.. take a snap of the offender leave comments, describe the offender and share it on social media … done word for word.. maybe you could use it too ?

anyway, stay safe xxxxxxxxxxxx

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Sharell शारेल October 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Oh, fantastic! I will take a look at it. Thanks for sharing.

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Christine October 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Thank you for this article!
I travelled through India for three month last year and I am very sorry to say that this has been my experience as well. It is the reasond why I probably wont be visiting India again, although I really would like to otherwise. Over the course of these three month I was constantly photographed. Not only every day, but every hour, every time I stepped out of my hotel room. I was traveling with my boyfriend at the time and I’m afraid it would have been even worse had I been in the company of other females only.

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Saurabh November 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm

New book in town: The Dream Chasers written by Mr. Vipul Mittra also the author of Pyramid of Virgin dreams!!
http://www.thedreamchasersbook.com/book/

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Akshat November 4, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I don’t understand how can they do this with a woman, how will they feel if someone does this to their close ones.Our culture tells us to respect women , just because someone is fair doesn’t mean they don’t have emotions. Any women wether a foreigner or an Indian doesn’t want to be photographed, groped and bothered by men.I feel saddened that these uneducated men represent India . I feel ashamed being an Indian guy, also I would request any women to not to visit Indian and any Indian guy is reading this post, if u see any women in such a problem instead of just sitting and watching this, please go and help her out.

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Rebecca November 13, 2013 at 12:55 am

Unfortunately I too delt with alot of this in the year I lived in Noida (just outside Delhi). I just kind of got used to it, though I know I should have done something about it (people taking my picture without my permission) and general mild sexual harassment . Became even uncomfortable when my friend came to visit me and she too noticed people taking pictures of us. Sorry to be so crude but its probably true. She said that those pictures are going in their “wank bank” for later that night.
Its a shame that India seems to be always in the news and remembered by others by such acts. As it is actually a lovely place and I would love to live there again.

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Ashish January 4, 2014 at 9:43 pm

I know i am late but still thank you. :) and i really mean what i said!

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aobeamber January 13, 2014 at 11:52 pm

When I was travelling to Seoul I also had issues with locals taking photos of me, most of them were youngsters, both guys and girls, sometimes teenagers. But surely, abusement both verbal or physical never happened. Koreans were all polite and most of the time were apologizing or asking for permission to take photos. Despite of those slight disturbances I was feeling safe there. But when agressive species (sorry, can’t call them human beings) gather in tribes to humiliate women, that’s another topic.

You probably heard of hyaenas. Those creatures usually attack defenseless weak creatures. I see similarity in those people’s behavior and these creatures a bit. Wouldn’t be surprised if in past lives they were them.
But as well as hyaenas the lions also exist. And honestly I would like to believe that there are men who, once saw those ‘animals’ abuse women of any color of skin, would come to rescure them.

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