Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Pictures Please!

I learned a thing or two about taking pictures of embassies today.

I had an appointment with Scott Beale who works at the US embassy fighting human trafficking in India. The rickshaw driver I had hired dropped me off at the immigration department - the wrong gate (no big surprise - they often go just as far as they feel like, and still charge the price you negotiated to go all the way). As I proceeded to find my way towards my appointed meeting place, I noticed the large amount of Indians in line and waiting to be seen at immigration. Something about this scene captured my imagination, and I took a couple of quick snaps.

As soon as I had lowered the camera, I noticed a guard beckoning me over. 'Aw shit!' I thought - just yesterday I had met with a woman at placed called Sarai, a new media institute a part of the Centre for Studying Developing Societies. She had told me of an Indian friend and film maker who had traveled to Australia and on two separate occasions, had been very unhappily detained and questioned by secret security types - for simply filming some street signs and city scenes (and having dark skin)!

'Of course pictures aren't going to be allowed here.' I thought as the guard approached, reaching for my camera. I can tell you that I felt apprehensive about giving it to him, however that was less disconcerting than when I had to hand over my passport next! Looking at the two pictures I'd taken, he said 'Oh, that's very bad.' My stomach sank. He made a call on his radio and told me I had to wait while his boss came over.

After his boss, then that bosses boss, and another boss again showed up, my passport was taken and photocopied, all of my travel details, home address and working addresses in Melbourne noted. The guards were friendly enough, complementing my home country (everyone is here is very impressed with Australia's success in the cricket) and assured me not to worry, that it was mainly a formality.

In the end, the pictures were deleted (I was worried they'd delete them all, which they thankfully didn't) and I was escorted to my meeting with Scott. It was somewhat embarrassing as the hefty security official (in dressed in black with dark sunglasses) explained what had happened. Thankfully Scott said he understood because he'd done the same thing on the Indian / Kashmiri border - he'd lost his memory card - all his pictures from his entire trip!

It then took another 5 or 10 minutes to get security clearance to be allowed into the embassy for lunch (once again embarrassing as Scott had to call his superior and say 'yes, the one who took pictures . . . its ok, he's a friend who just arrived in Delhi and didn't know any better.'

Fortunately I was allowed in and we had a great lunch. I learned that there's at least 200,000 trafficked prostitutes in Mumbai - generally married off in bogus weddings and then sold to brothels in the city and forced to have sex with up to 30 people per day. That is a small city of slave prostitutes in just one city in a country of 1.2 billion! Unfortunately, last year, only 10 people in Mumbai were convicted for such crimes. There is also an enormous amount of children trafficked for slavery in a wide variety of horrendous situations.

After a great time talking, we made plans to meet again on Thursday evening and I went on my way - a little shy about taking my camera out. Despite the title of this post, here's a few highlights from today!


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