Guns and Marriages- A Story of “Modern” India

A 25-year-old pregnant dancer was shot dead in a “celebratory firing” during a marriage ceremony in the town of Maur Mandi situated in Bhatinda, Punjab, on the 3rd of December, 2016. This, in fact has raised serious questions on the efficiency of the Government in controlling the passage of firearms in safe hands. Four people have been detained as convicts, amongst whom there is Lucky Goyal, the leader of the Sikh political party Shiromani Akali Dal, and his friend Sanjay Goyal.

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Bullet hit the dancer, causing her instant death.

The incident had happened when a few drunk men tried to get on stage to dance with the girls but they were refused to do so by the stage management. This frustrated the intoxicated revellers, one of whom fired a loaded gun, whose bullet hit the dancer, causing her instant death. Police Senior Superintendent Swapan Sharma said, “Both weapons found by officers belonged to Sanjay Goyal, but Lucky was holding the 0.32 bore revolver, as per the video clipping which we have seen. Lucky fired in the air while trying to go on stage. Sanjay Goyal was also near the stage holding his 0.12 gun. Both weapons have been recovered.” Truth to tell, incidents occurring due to such “celebratory firing” aren’t a very recent trend. The fatal revelry has been on for quite some time.

A 11-year-old boy was injured by “celebratory firing” at a marriage function at a village in Laksar, 20km from Roorkee on 11th November. The incident occurred when a bullet hit Vipul’s leg while he was watching a ‘baraat’ (wedding) procession from the rooftop of his house in Karanpur village. “The victim was rushed to the nearest health centre from where he was referred to a hospital in Haridwar as his condition was serious. However, he is stable now,” said Rajesh Kumar, station officer (SO) of Khanpur police station, adding that they have identified that man who had fired and will apprehend him soon. “The miscreant has been identified as one Sunil who was attending the marriage of a villager’s daughter. He used an illegal country-made firearm for the celebratory firing,” the SO said, adding that the accused was identified by the victim’s family. A similar incident happened in Ghaziabad, when a 14-year-old was injured by a stray bullet during an alleged celebratory firing. In case you were thinking that these kinds of incidents are just caused by civilians, you will find yourself mistaken. There was a shocking incident, that occurred in March, where allegedly drunk Vikas Kumar, a retired army man injured 5 persons by firing shots in “celebratory firing” during a wedding ceremony in outer Delhi’s Alipur area. To be honest, incidents of such kind have been happening in this country, every year.

We generally associate such incidents to Tarantino movies in a Texas background. However, thanks to a strange coincidence of Americanization and traditional machismo brought by rapid economic growth, India has developed a gun obsession that makes Charlton Heston look like Gandhi. Police say there has been a proliferating rise in gun violence in the country over the past few years. Illegal factories have become so common that country made guns are sold like candy in local bazaars, and as more and more  people seek to obtain legal and licenced guns, an organization, modelled on America’s National Rifle Association has emerged with the mission to ensure that every Indian has the right to bear arms. This, ironically ensures that there is a new story every few weeks. A motorist pulls a pistol to clear a traffic jam, an armed gang shoots and kills a young woman returning home late at night, a man pumps a bullet into the skull of his fiancée when she decides to call off their marriage, thugs gunning down a real estate broker over a business deal, or such “celebratory firings” injuring and killing people have, in fact, become regular household stories. In north India, and increasingly across other parts of the country, it seems, the emergent “India Shining” of election campaign slogans may turn out to be Nickel plated.

Nationwide, around 40 million firearms — only about 5.5 million of them licensed — are in civilian hands. That’s the second-highest total in the world, after the U.S., though it amounts to only four guns for every 100 people in India, compared with 90 guns for every 100 Americans. And despite relatively strict gun control laws, police and anti-proliferation activists say the number of weapons on the streets is growing steadily. India’s most populous state — and known as one of its most economically depressed — Uttar Pradesh has around 900,000 licensed gun owners, and several times that number of illegal arms. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Uttar Pradesh, and two other northern “cow belt” states, Bihar and Jharkhand, accounted for two-thirds of India’s gun-related homicides in 2008, the most recent year for which statistics have been collected. But the killing isn’t confined to the backwaters of these so-called “lawless states.” Just as in the United States and other countries, gun crime is an urban phenomenon. Fearful city dwellers are clamouring for gun licenses to protect themselves from criminals. And, increasingly, the weapons of the mushrooming illegal rural factories of states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh along with the culture of the gun are finding their way into India’s cities. “Everyone in our family has one. Our family has the largest number of guns in Gurgaon,” said Rajje Yadav, a real estate developer who also owns a liquor store. Yadav is a representative of north India’s new rich. Over the past several years, the rapid economic growth of the “National Capital Region” (NCR) that surrounds New Delhi — and an accompanying real estate boom — has brought radical social change to the traditionally macho, honour-obsessed communities of rural Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. But many have failed to integrate into the new urban society that surrounds them. For every new rich man there’s a poor one who covets what he has. Social tensions have been exacerbated as the educated members of the lower castes who once worked as bonded labour now leverage social programs to uplift themselves and overtake their one-time landlords. Throw in an obsession with “izzat”, or honour, and a fascination with guns, and you have the perfect recipe for violence. “We and our relatives who are in the land and wine business have to handle enormous amounts of cash every day, so in order to protect ourselves we have to carry guns,” said Yadav. But he admits that there’s more to the phenomenon. “Guns have become a sort of status symbol,” he says. “Possessing a gun takes a person to great heights.”

Celebratory firings in marriages are pretty common in Northern India, as shown in the marriage of Indian team regular cricketer Ravindra Jadeja’s marriage ceremony.

Celebratory firings in marriages are pretty common in Northern India, as shown in the marriage of Indian team regular cricketer Ravindra Jadeja’s marriage ceremony.

Accidental deaths at NCR weddings — where revellers show off by shooting into the air — have become so commonplace that a council of leaders from some 40 villages in Delhi’s hinterlands banned firearms from marriage ceremonies earlier this year. In a recent incident, for instance, bridegroom Pankaj Kumar was killed by a stray bullet at his wedding celebration when his father couldn’t resist discharging his pistol into the air to show his status. The rapid proliferation of guns suggests such tragedies are likely to grow more common. Already, in Meerut, another burgeoning city on the border of Delhi, guns accounted for nearly a quarter of accidental deaths in 2008.The reason behind this is the rapid industrialization and colonization in these areas. People are prospering and where there is money involved, there is always a fear of crime.”

Because of that fear, it’s not just rowdies, politicians and criminals who are arming themselves, and it’s not only the newly rich of India’s macho castes. Its doctors, lawyers and journalists, from the purportedly bookish Brahmin caste on down. We guess it is the survival of the fittest. If you want to live in Rome, you have to live like the Romans. However, you can’t go around getting drunk, shooting people, bullying those who are just doing their job, right? Indeed, the people of “modern” India need to understand the fine line of difference between freedom and recklessness. Or, the question still looms over us- are we actually modern, or is it just a portrayal by the Government to satisfy critics?

-Akash Choudhari
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