Illustration: Venla Valve
A state-run gun manufacturing company has launched India’s first handgun, which is marketed exclusively to women. While some women feel hopeful and confident, the weapon has attracted criticism from several other quarters.
DELHI — The gun has been named ‘Nirbheek’ after Nirbhaya — the name given to the 2012 Delhi gang rape victim, Jyoti Singh Pandey, by the Indian news media, which means ‘fearless’. Although the manufacturing process for the gun had begun before the unfortunate incident, the process was speeded up probably because it provided a suitable marketing opportunity.
The gun is aimed at making women feel fearless and protect themselves in the face of assault. Since it began taking orders on January 5, 20 guns have been sold by the manufacturer Indian Ordnance Factory (IOF) in spite of a whopping cost of Rs. 1,12,360 (£1091), which is higher than India’s average annual income.
The .32-caliber handgun of titanium alloy is the smallest revolver made in India. It comes packaged in a maroon jewellery case since, “Indian women like their ornaments,” according to Abdul Hameed, the general manager of IOF.
The chief of police in Kanpur and nearby districts, Ram Krishna Chaturvedi, states, “It is definitely a good idea. If you have a licensed weapon, it increases your self-confidence and creates fear in the mind of criminals.”
Homemaker and student in Kanpur, Pratibha Gupta, says, “If the person in front of me knows that I have a gun, he will hesitate to touch me. He will know that since she has a gun, she can use it. The gun will be my supporter, my friend and my strength.” But she also acknowledges that the weapon is unaffordable and the process of acquiring a license is burdensome.
As stated by attorney Namrata Kotwani, Nirbheek will not be affordable by most women and therefore, it will not be instrumental in increasing safety of women overall. It is a product that is aimed at women of an affluent class and may become a status symbol.
Another criticism of the weapon stems from the fact that guns — Nirbheek or otherwise — may not be ideal in increasing a person’s safety. Over several years, Women Gun Survivors Network in Manipur has been studying gun violence in eight states. Its founder Binalakshmi Nepram states, “Our research shows that a person is 12 times more likely to be shot dead if they are carrying a gun when attacked.” Hence, guns may increase the possessor’s risk rather than reducing it.
Sunil Subbaiah, professional shooter and coach at Nishaan Sports Shooting Academy addresses a few of these problems. He says, “To prevent its misuse by the wrong elements and ensure the procurement process is foolproof, I feel the sale of Nirbheek should come under the ministry of women and child development, where a register of buyers is recorded and maintained meticulously. The government should sell it at a subsidised rate without discrimination. It should also impart training and then issue the gun licence.”
According to national and international shooter Juthika Shetye, “Having a gun and not knowing how to handle it safely is of no use.”
Another hindrance in the path of women being successfully able to use Nirbheek (or any other gun) to defend themselves lies in the fact that guns are not allowed in most public places in India. Offices, markets, theatres, cinemas and malls are often equipped with metal detectors to enforce such regulation.
Secretary of Nishaan Sports Shooting Academy and BPO employee, Swathy Subbaiah says, “Women are vulnerable everywhere. You could be attacked anytime. Malls and offices have security checks, so if guards spot your gun, there could be chaos. Also, those employed in IT and other campuses are asked to keep their belongings in lockers. What’s the point if you can’t carry your gun?”
The irony of Nirbheek is exemplified in the fact that Nirbhaya would not have been able to afford the gun named after her, nor would she have been able to use it in her defence. She was raped on her way home from a mall; and at the mall, she would have been divested of the weapon or denied entrance.
The launch of Nirbheek also relieves authorities of the pressure to stop such criminals and prevent such crimes, by transferring such responsibility to victims of assault. As Nepram opines, “It’s ridiculous that the state is talking about arming women… The authorities saying, ‘Hey woman, come there’s a new gun for you which will make you safer,’ is an admission of failure on their part.”
An Indian Supreme Court attorney Nikhil Mehra, who was also on the government panel that examined rape and sexual assault after the 2012 Delhi gang rape, stated that it is of higher importance to have increased arrest and prosecution of rapists, increased police supervision of streets and negation of the stigma attached to rape victims.
According to GunPolicy.org, number of privately-owned firearms in India is second only to that of America. It is estimated at 40 million, of which only 15% or 6.3 million are legally possessed.
– Suryatapa Mukherjee, Correspondent (Asia – South)