Often when travelling India you will be asked for money or chocolate or a donation. One irregular but common request is “milk powder” and you must be wary of this one.
Being asked for money and donations is a common thing and is unfortunately something you have to deal with. There are many many poor in India and I wish to help but giving $1 here or there or 10 rupees to a kid on the street is not helping. It sounds mean, but you have to resist and put money to better use with organizations that can help the greater good.
There is an interesting scam however that is going on and I got done on my second trip to India. It took me a good 3-4 hours to realize but I had definitely been had. What happens is a child comes to you and befriends you, you do the usual “sorry no money” and they insist they do not wish for money. They will spend a little more time with you and win you over, the children tend to be around 9 or 10, not so small as they have very good English skills.
After walking for a while they will ask you if you can buy for them milk powder. You ask for what? Not for them of course, but for the babies. The mother cannot get to market and the poor baby needs milk powder – also it helps the children. After tugging on your heart strings, you ask them to show you where the Milk powder is.
Here is where the scam comes in. there are 100’s of shops and stores in the area selling milk powder but no, you are taken around swerving through streets to a very specific shop as chosen by them. Soon you are joined by another child and perhaps a mother with a baby. They insist you should also buy for that mother as the poor baby needs it.
Once there, you are told approximately 1200 rupees – equivalent at the time in 2006 to A$45, now about A$30. As you are just spending in rupees it doesn’t occur to you until later that that was a fair lot of money.
I made sure the children took me to the mother and the baby and where they lived- they take you to some area with a group of people and casually they toss the milk to the mother and I ask “Will you get the food? I want to know you will get the food?” I get the standard Indian yes/no head nod.
Although I was done, the kids were sweet and 3 of them stuck with me for another hour or so and helped me cross roads and shop for souvenirs in the markets. Actually I had a lot of fun with them. I felt a bit ripped off when I realized hours later but what are you gonna do and now I just know it’s a lesson learnt.
Today, in Dharamsala, I nearly was had again. Same scenario with little boy- “no maam, no money, all I want is milk powder.” I shook my head and walked away. An hour later, I saw the same little boy walking two tourists who were filled with glee at the prospect of helping this little boy and saving his family. I wanted to run and warn them,…. But really, it’s not my place. Minutes later the boy came passed with his tub of milk powder in a plastic bag, shook hands with the couple and they parted ways – I guess if both of their days were made, it’s ok.
If you are asked in India to buy Milk Powder, please say no to this child. They are part of a scam and an underground world that must be stopped. Only a few hours later that little boy will return to the store where he will receive money for the milk powder and give the shop owner a cut of the money too.
MILK POWDER SCAM INDIA – Watch out for it!
Have you had an experience such as this?
An ever tricky moral dilemma Em. ‘What then must we do?’ Tolstoy asked the same question and in situations like the one you have just described, he dismisses individual actions as meaningless in the greater scheme of things. I prefer to draw the conclusion, as you have, that if every individual addressed the suffering they saw before them, it would add to the greater sum of light. Sometimes, whether it be philanthropic or perhaps an innate need to exonerate our own guilt, it is simply too hard to just walk away.
Thanks so much for your comments Bec.
I did just want to put the message out there and make people aware, but as you pointed out, in the moment, we must follow what we feel is right. I chose to in the first instance help and in the end, despite the tricks, was happy to have helped. However, I now see that it can affect on a larger scale and that’s what I wish to see stop.
Great references! You are a wise and worldly woman.