Hyderabad: Post-Nirbhaya, the Indian Ordinance factory (IOF), Kanpur, manufactured ‘’Nirbheek’’ — a .32 bore lightweight revolver designed for women. The 500-gram handgun was designed to easily fit in a woman’s purse or shoulder bag.
After the recent “Disha’’ episode, are Indian women, who often join the chorus for hangings or lynching for sexual offenders, ready to shoot attackers with this handy weapon — provided the government grants gun licences?
In America with its longstanding and well-entrenched gun-culture, an increasing number of women buy guns for self-protection. In India, however, strict gun licensing laws comes in the way of women buying weapons. This ends up in women relying on pepper spray and mobile safety apps for their protection. Or just sheer luck.
According to IOF officials, only 53 women from around the country purchased Nirbheek revolvers from the factory soon after it was out in January 2014. Around 1,500 have been sold in total.
“Two years ago, we opened sale for arms dealers who sold in their local markets,” IOF additional general manager, Dinesh Singh, told Deccan Chronicle. “Besides whatever was bought individually, there could be some who may have purchased from dealers that we are not aware of.”
About 5,000 revolvers of different makes, including Nirbheek, were purchased by arms dealers in the country in the last five years. Each Nirbheek has a range of up to 15 metres and is made of titanium alloy. It costs a little over Rs 1.39 lakh, so not all women can afford it.
“Even the trigger has been reduced for smooth operation,’’ says Singh. Another model, Nishank, out in the market recently, is also designed for women. Several have made enquiries regarding it, he said.
Strict licensing laws ensure that not all get armed. “Law enforcement agencies should consider circumstances and issue licenses to those who require it,” said M.S. shafiq of ‘Gun Affairs’ in Banjara Hills.
“Importantly, no lice-nce holder in Hyderabad has misused the weapon. As for Nirbheek, not a single woman has purchased it yet. However, there could be about 50 to 100 women who have gun licenses in the city, which they may have obtained long ago.”
Though the police is tight-lipped over the number of licenses in Hydera-bad, rough estimates suggest it could be a few hundreds. The Indian Arms Act says threat perception and a police record are the key aspects based on which gun licenses are issued. “Many people apply, but most are rejected,” says Shafiq.
“People living in remote areas feel unsafe, as do those in farmhouses. The police should consider this and issue licences. If there is misuse, the agencies can always cancel the license.’’
‘We will examine each request for gun licenses,” said Cyberabad police commissioner V.C. Sajjanar. “But I do not think issuing more licences will solve the problem.’’
Hyderabad police commissioner Anjani Kumar similarly said that licence can be granted to anyone who applies but fulfills the criteria. Other senior officials say that guns have been misused earlier. Also, nothing indicates that guns prevent rape or other violent crime, barring exc-eptions. We have come acr-oss cases wherein licence holders have intimidated people just by showing the weapon,” these officials say. “We do not want a gun culture like the USA’s and therefore more rejections.’
What if the police is slow or ineffective? Officials had little to offer. But do guns assure safety for women? Numerous studies in the US suggest that the increasing guns bought by women for self protection have proved ineffective during an emergency.
According to a study by the Violence Policy Centre, the message that firearms make women safer actually had the opposite effect.
In a majority of domestic violence cases, a gun at home ended up killing a woman by a relative. In only a few instances did a woman use a firearm for self-defence. “In America, guns are not used to save lives but to take them,’’ sums up the report.
Another senior IPS officer feels, however, that in an emergency, a woman pulling out a weapon is enough to deter and repel her attackers. “They need not actually fire the weapon,” he says.
“Once the attacker notices that the woman is armed, he realises it can be dangerous.”