Pistols and firearms. You would think only the police—and an organised mafia—would use them. And that too when excessively provoked. Unfortunately, in Gurgaon this may not be true.
The rate at which pistols and rifles are being used, to decide the outcome of fights and rivalries, is growing uncomfortably high. And very little is officially acknowledged.
There are regular cases of road-rage, fights that end with bodies, and shoot-outs. Rogue elements boldly take on even the police. There was a time when the ubiquitous Haryanvi farmer would be pictured as a tall, strapping man astride his tractor, or with a well-worn walking staff in a field. Over time, the image has been replaced by a nattily-dressed man with an SUV and a .32 bore handgun.
So, as a concerned citizen, is buying a gun the answer to this problem? Or would it worsen the situation?
Along with the massive expansion of the City, and change in its lifestyle, the safety factor of the average Joe has not progressed similarly. In a City where private guards outnumber the official police force, it is not unbelievable that the citizen would take extra measures to protect himself and his family – especially when there are more than the average number of upper-class families and High Net-Worth Individuals, compared to other non-metro cities. Along with the high-security condominiums and gated colonies for the rich and famous, a gun-toting bodyguard is almost mandatory for these circles. And for those who can't afford such precautions for themselves or their loved ones, getting a gun is not far from their mind. “This is a thing I would not have thought of in any other City,” says Rajesh, a resident of Sushant Estates. He is a young man with a wife and a toddler. “The tolerance level in this City is next to nothing. Even a dent on the car has to resolved with threats of political connections, or bodily harm. Is it not enough to pay for your mistake, and get it over with?” he feels. “I have shifted my tyre-iron from the boot of my car to below my seat,” he admits, after a traffic altercation with some locals left him with bruises. Although he is not financially able to afford a gun as of now, “I am thinking of buying a fake pistol,” he jokes. “The City is just not safe for the aam aadmi. When a guy like me settles here, he doesn't think about protection and safety. That duty is entrusted to the police of the City. But when we read about powerful and influential people getting into altercations and whipping out firearms, a thought does come to mind that is the police doing anything to protect the common man from such elements?”
But according to the police, buying a gun is not so easy. As of now, the City has a little less than 9,800 licensed gun owners. The Arms Act (1952) and the Arms Rules (1962) make for very strict rules, and the police has further narrowed the list of people eligible for keeping a gun. The Gun Application and Verification Office in Gurgaon's Mini-Secretariat wears a dusty look, that comes from too many files and too less space to even sit or walk. Surrounded by a mountain of files, Inspector Jasmer Singh (In-Charge of the Department) talks to a bank Branch Manager who has applied for a gun licence. Looking around, he says, “Now, if a person gets a gun licence issued in Haryana, it is only valid for within the State. For an all-India licence, applicants have to go to New Delhi. We don't give a firearm licence to anyone who waves a handful of cash and wants to show-off in front of his friends. The rules say that a grave threat to life of oneself, and of family, is one of the few eligibility criteria available to an applicant. The threat has to be credible, and has to be verified by the local Station House Officer (SHO). If, and only if, the SHO sends a letter of no-objection and validates the applicant's story, can we process the request. There have been so many cases when property dealers have broken their own car's wind-shield, and asked for protection. The SHO simply sends a letter stating the reality, and the application is rejected.”
What are the instances in which the police provides a gun licence from their own side? “In some cases, when we feel that a person is facing a grave threat, we issue a licence from our side. In the Hayatpur murder case, we have issued gun licences to the witnesses who are going for deposition. As of now, we only give gun licences to those who need the protection. Also, we can make an exception when a person has entered sports shooting, and has won domestic and international competitions. In those cases, we relax the law to accommodate them,” Singh says.
This means that when a citizen is facing a life-threat, there is no option but to call 100, and wait for the cavalry to arrive, says Sanjay Singh, one of the youngest Resident Welfare Association (RWA) Presidents in the City. He lives in the M2K White House colony. At his behest, the Colony was secured with guards armed with rifles, rather than the normal private guards. “One night, I heard scraping sounds outside my house. When I sneaked out, I found three miscreats trying to steal the air-conditioners from my house – which is situated at the edge of the Colony. When I yelled at them, they paid no heed. But thankfully, a guard came running up. I took the rifle from him and shot off a couple of rounds in the air. Hearing that, the thieves ran for their lives,” he recollects. Were it not for a gun, the thieves would have thrashed him, and kept stealing more valuables from the Colony. At that time, my decision to arm the Colony's guards paid off in gold,” he says. “I am considering sending off an application for owning a gun, after what happened. At that time, had I called and waited for the police to show up, I would have been left with an FIR and missing items – not to talk of injuries, had the goons spotted me,” Singh says.
“There is no safety in the City any more,” says a Senior Vice-President of an MNC, who has seen Gurgaon over the years. “Before the boom, people had a need for guns as there was wilderness after 50 steps in any direction. There was nothing, and no one that could help in times of distress. Now, the axiom is still true, but the conditions have reversed. The City-metropolis has burgeoned so much that there is no police to save the common citizen. Well-off citizens can still hire guards and gunmen, but that is an unlikely and improbable solution for every household in the City of Gurgaon.”
Gurgaon's Joint Commissioner of Police Anil Rao was transferred to Gurgaon from Faridabad. “The condition of the Weapons Registration Office was pathetic there. I revamped it, and made it into an ISO certified institution,” he says proudly. “I got youth from technical colleges to enter the verification forms and the licence data into a computer, thus providing for an indestructible safe (to avoid a situation similar to what happened in Mewat – where the police station burned down, and the weapons records were lost in the fire). Furthermore, the records were managed by a special software, made available to us by the Centre. We were able to send out SMSes and letters to all registered arms holders to renew their licence. And the wait time for the process was cut to less than three to four minutes,” he recalls. Joint Commissioner Rao is planning to do the same in Gurgaon. It is a time-saver, and frees up the officials as well as the people from unnecessary hassles, he says.
“Since there is no gun shop worth going to in Gurgaon, most people get their arms from outside; and they prefer small-arms like pistols and revolvers (reflected from the licences issued). Heavy-bore weapons like shotguns are not the flavour any more. The applicants have got the cash to splurge, and go for models like Smith and Wesson, 9mm Beretta, and even exotic models like Glock pistols which cost over Rs. 3 lakhs,” says an official.
What about training? Does the process of weapons registration involve getting to know how to handle your 'piece'? “Of course,” says Jasmer Singh, “Each applicant is supposed to go through a 15-day course, in which he learns about how to shoot properly, and how to take care of the weapon. The Home Guard Commandant Range in Gurgaon is the place where we send the applicants, as a part of the process of getting a weapons licence.”
We have also stopped giving licences to professional shooters, Singh says. Under new rules, only those who need it for protection can apply for it. Personal Security Officers (PSO) and those individuals who make a living by owning a firearm have to get their respective company to vouch for them first.
The incident in which a minor shot his bullying classmate is a horrific reminder that guns kept for personal safety can be turned into death-dealing devices. The father of the perpetrator, a property dealer, was lacking in the security of his gun, and the child saw it as a fit weapon for retribution.
It may seem a good idea to get a pistol or a rifle to protect your home and hearth. Joint Commissioner Anil Rao is vehement when he says that the police is more than capable to handle any exigency, at any time, anywhere. “When a girl calls 100 to save herself from getting molested, we respond. When an old man calls 100 for reporting suspicious persons in his neighbourhood, we respond. There is hardly any situation in which the police is lagging. And keeping a gun in the house is not a solution for safety,” he feels.
The times have changed from when one needed a gun to keep off the wild animals, or as a show-piece in the drawing room. But Haryana, and Gurgaon in particular, has started relying on guns more than the traditional latth, or staff. Along with a big, fat SUV, will a handgun now be the identifying denominator for a Gurgaonite?
While there is a growing fetish in Gurgaon to buy weapons and brandish them, experts say that people should first get trained, and know how to handle the arms and ammunition. They also suggest that a shooting centre or range should be set up in Gurgaon, so that people can exhaust their pent up anger and frustration. This is happening in Delhi, where people in large numbers—both weapon owners as well as non-owners—are going to shooting ranges to learn the science and art. Vikram Singh, Coach at the Sportzcraft shooting centre in Delhi, says that they train people on how to use guns for sports shooting – but this also help them understand the importance of safety while using a gun. There are many gun-owners who do not know how to load, aim and maintain a weapon – but they understand when they go there.
Mehboob Pathan, another trainer, says that many people who have not fired a single shot now come here regularly, as shooting helps them to relieve their tension – and also improves concentration. "We have imported weapons, and have a world class range. We are also looking to set up one in Gurgaon", he says. Since the opening of the range, the interest of people has been phenomenal, as they want to know how to use weapons – and we are teaching this here, he adds.
-With inputs from Abhishek Behl
Penalties and Punishments Under Arms Act (1952), Chapter V:
(I-AAA) Whoever has in contravention of a notification issued under Section XXIV-A in his possession or in contravention of a notification issued under Section XXIV-B carries or otherwise has in his possession, any arms or ammunition shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than (three years,but which may extend to seven years) and shall also be liable to fine.
Punishment for possessing arms, etc, with intent to use them for unlawful purpose (Section XXVII)
(1) whoever uses any arms or ammunition in contravention of Section V shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.
(2) whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition in contravention of Section VII shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.
(3) whoever uses any prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition or does any act in contravention of Section VII and such use or act results in the death of any other person, shall be punishable with death.