By Jayasmita Ray:
The Delhi rape case has inspired the name of a new light-weight handgun called “Nirbheek”. Marketed as a product for women, it is manufactured by state-run Indian Ordnance Factory (IOF) in Kanpur. Supposedly the lightest handgun in India, this .32 calibre weighs only 500 grams and comes with a stiff price tag of $1900. It is meant to allow women to defend themselves and give potential criminals second thoughts. IOF general manager Abdul Hamied told the media that: “There’s something you can do to prevent these attacks. You can also enthuse confidence among women.” Nonetheless, the projection of “Nirbheek” as a source of infusing confidence in women leaves us with a basic thought – “Can we really prevent another Nirbhaya with a Nirbheek?”
A number of broad considerations immediately crop up. Would Nirbhaya have been able to save herself with a revolver? Perhaps it would have been possible. She may have been able to frighten her assailants. We are also aware that before the bus ride, she had gone to a mall to watch a movie. Firearms are not allowed inside malls. It remains highly doubtful as to whether she could have been able to carry it in the first place. Further questions arise from this hypothetical situation: Has our society and state become such that we need special guns for women now? Is this the answer to female safety and confidence?
Lack of confidence inherently exists because of a number of reasons — primarily fear. It rises further with a heightened awareness of the kind of scrutiny, which women know they will face throughout their lives. They are objectified and sexualized – judged thoroughly based on their external appearance and dressing sense. From a young age, women are taught to be careful. Irrespective of their progress in terms of education and financial stability, there is an inevitable fear when they travel alone or go out at night. A rape victim isn’t spared any judgement either. She is bombarded with questions like “What were you wearing that time?”, “Were you travelling late?”, “Do you have a boyfriend?” etc.. Scrutiny and bias wouldn’t change overnight because of special guns.
Sadly, it is a reality that crimes such as rape and abduction of women have gone up. Therefore, does it become imperative to provide Nirbheek to women? Since its sale commenced on 5th of January, the IOF has already received 20 bookings (mostly from women). Admittedly though, it is a premium product. The average Indian earns about $1500 a year, while the cost of the gun is $1900 (approximately Rs. 1,22,360).
In retrospect, if any low-cost version gun were produced, its effectiveness would remain highly implausible. Most public spots like malls, offices, parks etc. don’t allow firearms and use metal detectors. If guns were openly allowed in public, newer dilemmas would arise for a country plagued with security issues. Existing illegal guns could also worsen the situation. They are easily disposable and remain ideal for criminal activity. Robbery and terrorist activity could potentially rise. Additionally, a low-cost gun wouldn’t help minor girls anyway. Licensed gun holders have to be above 21 years old. According to National Crime Records Bureau, in 2012, minor girls in cities alone accounted for 49.93% of the reported rape cases. On a national level, they constituted about 36.4% of cases.
It would be interesting to consider if giving guns to women would make them appear more “intimidating” to their potential rapists, kidnappers and eve-teasers? An alarming irony remains that most of the rape victims reported in 2012 actually knew their assailant beforehand – as a parent, relative, neighbour or other known person. Research conducted by Women Gun Survivors Network shows that a person is 12 times more likely to be shot dead if they are carrying a gun. Additionally, there remains a scenario where the potential victim may be well-outnumbered by the number of assailants. Her gun could be snatched away and misused. In the worst case, if the woman actually shot someone to protect herself, she would still face long-stretched and complicated criminal proceedings.
Having a gun in any case is a complicated affair. It can’t entirely compensate for the failure of the state in providing effective security to its citizens. Fear will continue to exist because of earlier trends and stigmas. Nirbheek or its possible future cousins are not the answer to violence against women. Long term changes in mindset can only arise in the absence of fear. Confidence ultimately emerges through attitudinal changes in the society, brought about by gender sensitization and economic development. A woman’s true safety thus lies in enabling her freedom to function as a contributing and respected citizen.