Gun runners spread their tentacles
Akira Kurosawa’s cinematic masterpiece, The Seven Samurai, is an evergreen epic that transcends several epochs and has been remade in different languages. The story remains the same, seven Samurais band together to defend a village from a group of 40 bandits. The Samurai sacrifice themselves, in an orgy of tactful violence that plays out in the backdrop of a bleak feudal Japan.
However, this is not the story of the righteous seven. The seven, in this story, have barely come of age and instead of saving the villagers from bandits, they play the hateful tyrants. Many of them are not even adults and can barely ride a bike, but they steal one anyway. The whole group, loaded with country–made pistols, pumped up on liquor, and seated on the very same bike, go on a shooting rampage in Dwarka’s highway area.
As they navigate their way to through the highway, they find an incoming truck which is stopped. One of the boys drags the driver out of the truck while the other jams the pistol in his eye and pulls the trigger.
The bullet never leaves the cartridge; cursing his friend, he points the gun at the driver’s stomach and pulls the trigger. The bullet burrows into his stomach and he collapses. The seven, then squeeze into the same bike in search of more victims. Their rampage comes to an end when the police apprehends them. They have had at least eight such violent encounters before their arrest. No Samurai comes to the victim’s rescue.
This is South West Delhi’s Dwarka area, an upcoming neighbourhood, in what is often pegged as one of the ‘most well–planned districts’ in Delhi, due to its wide roads, upcoming infrastructure and a floating population from South Delhi in search of property.
However, far away from the sophisticated neighbourhood lies an ugly, dark underbelly of feudal Najafgarh and its infamous gangsters who used to terrorise the villages of Mitraon and Dichaon Kalan in the late 80s.
Many of them are dead, arrested or on the run. The villages have changed from a traditional agrarian paradise into an urban jungle, fraught with the complexities that modernity has to offer. The gangsters may have gone, yet their guns remain as many communities across Delhi lock, stock and barrel their guns.
For 21–year–old Ankit Dabbas, a resident of Najafgarh, carrying a gun around is like carrying his cell phone. It is an essential part of his body. Ankit was introduced to guns at a very early age. “The first time I fired a gun was at my Uncle’s farm house. I must have been seven; my father put a rifle in my hands and then helped me fire the gun. I did not flinch as I had seen my cousins do it countless times. I never really looked back after that and guns became my first love,” said Ankit.
For Ankit and many others like him, owning several vintage guns is a passion. They usually buy these guns and put them on display at their homes as a sign of honour. Sometimes they take out their rifles and go hunting for game during their vacations. However, owning a gun is also for their protection, as Bharat Solanki, another property dealer, who has also set up several eateries, and a gym in Dwarka says,“The people I negotiate with are tough customers. I never really need a gun. But then there are times when some criminals may try to extort you, I negotiate with them but you never really know if you would require your gun.”
India’s gun culture is a story which traverses many centuries. Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler, may have had something to do with its recent history, as in the 30’s he set Germany on the path of war, by manufacturing weapons on a mass scale to beat the crippling unemployment due to the Great Depression.
Many other European powers also jumped into the arms race, producing a record number of weapons. However, a market was needed to earn revenues and arming their militias was just not profitable. So like always they looked towards the East, as India provided a fertile ground for the gun market.
The first buyers were the rich and affluent Zamindars, who used the guns for hunting. The profitability of the munitions industry soon reverberated, as several gun factories mushroomed in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. But the English left and they left their guns behind. Post Independence,
Gorakhpur, UP saw the first organised gang war in Indian history, which was fought between Brahmin and Rajput gangs. The high body count, earned the region the moniker, Chicago in the East.
However,with the end of the war between the Tiwari and Shahi gang, a very important point was made: One could make his point with the barrel of the gun.
Udayan Tripathi was just a boy when his father, a Congress party worker and Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee post holder, was shot at by a gang of dacoits. “Around 25–30 dacoits opened fire at my father. If he did not have his two rifles and a pistol, he would never have lived to tell the tale. There is a saying in UP, that you may never need a gun your entire life, but if you need the gun on that one day, and you don’t have it, then you will not get another day to regret, ” he said.
Udayan likes the smell of gunpowder and worships his guns religiously on the eve of Dussehra and Durga Puja. Every other friend of his has the same passion as they primarily use the guns for hunting. “I love hunting as a sport, it makes me happy. Many of my friends partake in the same”.
The Poorvanchal area, in the early seventies, was awarded several development projects and many gangs were born vying for the projects. The gun mafia later shifted to the outskirts of Delhi as Dwarka provided similar conditions as several contracts for development came up, usurping the traditional power structure of the village, disrupting the village economy, and the fight for an ever shrinking land.
The first such gang war in Southwest Delhi was in the late 80s, as the infamous Narender and Balraj gang fought over a plot of land. They soon started to recruit many people under their gangs giving rise to several powerful gangsters like Kapil Sangwan, Vikas Langarpuria, Neeraj Bawana, Kishan Pehalwan, the brother of the slain MLA–Bharat Singh etc.
“This is used to be the story in the old days. These days the youth is getting educated and they are leaving these villages. In the recent years, the incidents of gang war and revenge killing have come down drastically. I personally interact with all people, whose relatives were murdered and try to instil confidence in them. If I ever commit a mistake, I accept it in front of them,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (South–West), Surender Kumar.
With the murder of Bharat Singh and his rivals, South West Delhi had indeed found peace. However, capitalising on the numerous gang wars that plagued the area, gun racketeers from Munger (Bihar), Khargaon, Burhanpur and now Sendhwa, all in Madhya Pradesh started manufacturing sophisticated weapons rivalling global standards.
“Munger used to be the hub of gun racketeers; several tribes who used to make guns during the British period were out of work and then started making guns for criminals in search of money. After we came down heavily on them, the inputs that we received were that the gun racketeers have shifted to West Bengal from Munger,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell), Sanjeev Yadav. Out of work, these tribes especially the Chikhilikar community, had been producing sophisticated weapons concealed in various cavities in trucks etc, and use the free–floating population of Delhi to sneak in the weapons.
Special Cell unit alone has busted several interstate arms syndicates and has recovered 347 sophisticated pistols, 9 country made guns, 6009 live cartridges and 95 spare magazines this year. Most of these weapons are sold to criminals operating in various areas of Delhi. Pistols may fetch anywhere between Rs 15–20, 000, whereas semi–automatic weapons can cost anywhere between Rs 50–60, 000.
However, despite the best efforts by the police, there is still a lot of work left to be done as the mindset of the village community is yet to change, as Neeraj Bawana and Kapil Sangwan’s shadow still looms large in the community.
“Honour is of the utmost importance for us. We will sacrifice our lives for the sake of honour, and that is why for trivial reasons people kill themselves. If we did not have guns perhaps we would have let our fists do the talking, but these days anyone can find a gun,” said Ashok Bhardwaj, a resident of Samyapur Badli.