India’s social and film circles have been abuzz with the jail term to film star Sanjay Dutt for his arms act case. Sanjay Dutt who narrowly escaped being indicted for terrorist act was instead booked under the Arms Act some years back. The issue that has been debated endlessly in both newspaper columns and television studios is whether he deserves to undertake the remaining years of his punishment, which would have commenced by the time this gets into print.
The point is not whether he has redeemed himself or not. The fact remains as a 33 years old, his liaison with underworld goons and his macho desire for weapons of a prohibited bore deserves to be punished. A 33 year old is certainly no novice in knowing what is illegal and what is legal. The fact is also that he did all that with impunity and with total disregard for what the law stands for because he felt he could get away with it. While his films may have charmed and fans may feel sorry for him, the fact remains that he is a part of the long list of people who held a deadly weapon illegally, irrespective of the fact whether he used it or not. In other words he attempted to add to the growing number of unaccounted for weapons in the country.
The problem of unaccounted for weapons, acquired illegally and used blatantly has become a new age problem for India. While the licensing is suitably strict as far as Delhi is concerned, it is little secret that elsewhere it is random and often illegal. In the last few months there have been far too many cases of gunfire shattering peace, whether it was in the farmhouse of liquor baron Ponty Chadha or much recently at the farmhouse of a rich BSP leader Deepak Bhardwaj at the outskirts of the metro city of Delhi. In the last case too, people simply barged into the aspiring MP’s house and gunned him down with the CCTV footage clearly showing a scene that is often seen in films. The brandished guns, the escape with impunity. And from the reports which indicate two precise and single shots in the head and chest, the perpetrators knew their job. And they were used to firing weapons which they clearly had acquired illegally.
The official process of acquiring a gun license is crystal clear in the law books. The application, the verification, the investigation on whether the person really needs a weapon for his personal security and a detailed list of dos and dont’s connected with having a weapon. Technically a person who has a license to own a firearm also has the right to carry it on his person. But subsequent laws framed and specified, also indicates that there are a number of places where even a licensed fire arm owner cannot carry a weapon.
So if the law is so strict in having a weapon, where do all these unaccounted for armory that appears to surface sporadically come from? Reports say that one doesn’t have to try too hard to get the most preferred weapon in India-the AK-47 and AK-56. In Delhi’s Karol Bagh lies Gaffar Market, a one-stop destination for all electronic goods, including cellphones. Right from brand-new originals to fakes, everything is available here at a cheaper price. But what most people don’t know is that Gaffar Market is also the place where you can buy an AK-47 of Soviet make or its younger sibling, the AK-74, for anything between Rs 60,000 and Rs 5 lakh, depending on the originality of the weapon. Knockoffs are cheaper and usually originate in Hungary, Bulgaria, Pakistan or China. Incidentally, the original Russian manufacturer, Izhmash Corporation, no longer makes the AK-47 or AK-56; in fact, Kremlin is planning to destroy five million AK-47s piled up in its arsenal. Experts, however, fear these unused Russian rifles would ultimately land in the illegal weapons market.
As mentioned earlier gun-control norms in India are somewhat stricter than other countries. Even then 40 million Indians own guns, of whom 85% never register their firearms, according to Gunpolicy.org. These weapons are responsible for 90% homicides involving a firearm.
As if the presence of these killer weapons wasn’t enough, Western UP and Bihar is full of areas where manufacturing of country made weapons is prolific. A senior police officer says that some of these weapons which were made in these small time factories are so sophisticated that they could match in firepower of an officially made weapon. The days when a country-made weapon or a katta had to be fired by a person by keeping it away from the body lest it exploded in hand are gone. Now country-made weapons are viryual replicas of brand names like Bretta, Colt and even AK-47s.
If police of various states quotes a statistics of legal firearms in circulation, it would be safe to assume that more than three times that number is owned illegally by people. Over the years various countries, like Brazil, Zambia, and South Africa have faced the problem of illegitimacy of weapons possessed. These weapons- manufactured within the country or smuggled from abroad- pose a giant threat to the society as well as the individual themselves. According to the International Action Network on Small Arms, Amnesty International and Oxfam, India accounts for about 40 million of the 75 million illegal small arms currently in circulation in the world. Which is a massive percentage for a country not known to have easy gun laws.
Reports say that this spurt has gathered pace in the past few years and even Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar admitted that illegal firearms smuggled into Capital from cities such as Meerut, Agra and Allahabad is on the rise. The Commissioner observed that the arms dealers have been misusing their quota for manufacture of ammunition, allotted by the Indian ordnance factories.
While a majority of firearms recovered by Delhi Police in their occasional crackdowns are marked ‘Made in in England’ or ‘Made in USA’, forensic examination of the weapons revealed that they were country-made. The report says the weapons, though country-made, are manufactured through imported machines or are from the Indian ordnance factories or imported.
According to the report, a few years ago, at least 32 units in various states were given license to manufacture weapons. As the residents learnt process of making firearms, some started illegal manufacture of the weapons. They, however, continued to use the machines of the Indian ordnance factories. The illegal arms are then supplied to other states, including Delhi.
Listing out measures to curb the smuggling of firearms, the police chief suggested an increased electronic surveillance of the factories in Munger. He has also suggested the Centre make the checks more stringent to stop misuse of gun licenses.
Delhi police sources that their worry is more from the country-made weapons since their new found sophistication makes them just as deadly as the imported weapons and much cheaper to acquire. Considering the fact that assessments have indicated that only around 20-25 per cent crimes are committed using a licensed weapons, there are 75 per cent chances of the criminal getting away with his crime because the weapon cannot be traced for ownership. Delhi police officers say that the growing rate of crimes being committed using a firearm is a worrying situation and add that they are planning to rope in police forces of neighbouring states for a common solution to the problem. Since illegal weapons surface from other states, a coordination is desperately needed between various forces to country the problem.
The last thing India needs is to have a situation wherein on paper they have a strict gun control, the ground reality is that weapons and bought and used with as much impunity as United States where gun control is becoming a national issue.