HYDERABAD: The ‘Footpath Mamool mafia’, operating around Charminar is back, almost immediately after the street side hawkers returned for business.
Goons and pahelwans are back to extorting ‘mamools’ or protection money from hawkers while the shop-keepers too step in to imposing and collecting a little ‘fee’ for allowing hawkers to peddle their wares in front of their shops.
In several cases, shopkeepers can collect anywhere from Rs 100 a day from each push-cart hawker, to a notch higher depending on location and nature of goods sold.
By an estimate, over 3,800 hawkers, including minors, do business on roads and footpaths from Nayapul to Shah Ali Banda, including on the Lad Bazar and Khilwat belt. The footpath’s eastern side in Nayapul is occupied by fruit-vendors.
The roads leading to Charminar, near and around the monument itself have sprung back to life after being nearly deserted for months during the lockdown. Not just the older shopkeepers who had deserted their spots on the streets to sell during the lockdown, but newer ‘businessmen’ are here too, mostly youth who had lost jobs on account of Covid-19, who too have taken to petty street-side businesses to make a living.
Meanwhile, space comes at a premium for these hawkers. At times, even at the cost of an arm or a leg if anyone dares to defy the goons. On February 8, some vendors scuffled over space, which ended with the police registering a case of attempt to murder on some of them.
A gang of five attacked two hawkers, Mohammed Majid and Mohammed Naveed, with iron rods. Majid’s leg was fractured in the attack.
The Hussaini Alam police registered a case under Section 370 of the IPC against Abdullah bin Mohammed, Sadiq bin Mohammed, Mohammed Safiuddin and Mohammed Naseer and remanded them.
When Deccan Chronicle spoke to a cross-section of hawkers in the area, they revealed that shop keepers collect money from them to ‘park’ their carts or set up other mobile ‘units’ in front of their shops. This ‘fee’ can range anywhere between Rs 50 to Rs 100, going up to Rs 500 in some cases, depending on the product the hawker sells and the shop’s location.
Inquiries also revealed that in some places, shopkeepers collect fees from more than one street vendor. Not surprisingly, most hawkers were not comfortable while talking about the problems they face.
Speaking only on the condition of anonymity, a vendor said, “there is a tier system in what they collect from us. If the stand on which I hang clothes to sell has more than one tier, then I have to give the shopkeeper Rs 200 per tier. In some cases, it can go as high as Rs 500.”
These ‘parking’ fees, he said, also depended on the type of wares being sold. Those who sell knick-knacks, popular with tourists, usually end up paying more than those selling materials like pajamas, socks and the like.
Calling the shots around Charminar and Mecca Masjid are goons and self-styled pahelwans, who collect mamool (protection money in their dialect). “If anyone refuses to pay, the goons harass us. At times, even cops harass us,” a hawker said.
Then there are ‘facilitators’, strong arming youth who extort money from hawkers and then ‘manage’ the police.
Asked if they are left with anything after shelling out ‘fees’, a hawker explained that those who occupy a good spot can take home more than Rs 1,000 after meeting ‘ these daily expenses’.
“Many tourists do not haggle as they are looking to buy something as a souvenir to commemorate their visit to Charminar. Most of us make enough, and on some days, the take-home is really good,” the hawker said.