Delhi riots have brought the issue of illegally produced and sold firearms to the forefront
The death toll during the recent Delhi riots has climbed to 53 people according to the latest reports. More than half of this tally is that of the those who were shot and killed. And apart from those killed, over 200 have sustained serious injuries primarily due to gunshots. Illicit firearms obviously had a free play during this mayhem. This is truly tragic because this scourge of India's domestic production of illicit small arms, especially from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has been allowed to proliferate as the law and order systems watched. It is with the greatest regret I point out this phenomena had existed even in colonial times and since India's independence, we have watched it flourish. Its volume has burgeoned phenomenally.
Production of firearms in the Indian illegal sector, though a serious issue, does not receive due attention (from the government). Indigenous weapons come at a cheap price and while their accuracy cannot be guaranteed, they are highly destructive and impossible to trace using ballistic fingerprinting. In the Indian Union, largely, this manufacturing had been ascribed to UP and Bihar. In UP, large urban centres like Muzzafarnagar, Rampur, Shamli, Meerut, Etah, Farukkhabad, Azamgarh, Bulandshahar and area near Loni on the Delhi-UP border have been identified as big trade centres for illicit guns. There are reports dating back to 2004 of a unit in Loni that used to dispose off over 30 firearms on an average, every month and earn about Rs 50,000. Viewed with the existing inflation figures, this statistic would have easily mounted to at least Rs 10 lakh per month.
There is an official estimate, reported in February 2004 of over 1,500 illegal arms manufacturing units in Bihar. Most of them were located in Munger, Biharsharif, Nalanda, Lakhisarai, Gaya and Sheikhpura Districts. These regions lie south of Ganga, astride the country's most active industrial belt including the biggest mining centre in India.
Delhi has always been a significant recipient of the weapons as country-made pistols are easily available in the intensely populated zones of Mongolpuri, Sultanpuri, Zaffarabad, Jehangirpura, Seelampur and the walled city. These are congested areas of the city, which emerged out of a scanty urban planning process in the formative years. The current areas where the riots had erupted are Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Chandbagh etc. These are ghettos adjacent to the locales mentioned earlier.
Reports show that a 7.65 mm semi-automatic pistol produced in Munger was the main weapon which was used. It can be explained because, among criminals, there is a clamour for a factory-made pistol, which was referred to by a generic name as an 'English' weapon. These are very expensive, so most of them settle for the refined version of the nefarious 'Katta' called 'Sixers', as they can hold six bullets at a time, unlike the cruder version that holds a single bullet. The 'Sixer' looks like a factory-made weapon and at times it is difficult for an untrained eye to tell the difference between a 'Sixer' and a factory-made pistol. This unlicensed weapon is something of a status symbol in these circles. Way back in the year 2009, Delhi was suspected to have as many as 3,00,000 unlicensed weapons. It gives an indication of the percentages of the products meant for the city.
A matter of gravest concern is the changing profile of the Indian polity. It is driven by an ever-increasing phenomenon of organised violence within the people. Although the gun factories in Bihar had provided the initial arms, inevitably, AK-47 is clearly making inroads. There is a fear that firearms led wars would manifest in several other states of the country because of religious and caste animosities that are being promoted for which India's democratic forces have to find an answer. The warring groups do not demonstrate any responsibility towards political, administrative and economic issues of the region and certainly not towards the Indian Union. An atmosphere of terror and violence corrodes the spirit of mutual existence which is the basic strength of civil society. The processes of negotiations and dialogue, intrinsic parts of democratic conduct, are totally subverted due to the presence of arms.
The violations of the Arms Act in the country showed a steady increase of nearly 40 per cent at the turn of the century in the last 10 years. UP registered the highest rise at nearly seventy per cent. Caste, land and revenge feuds were among the principal issues to be settled through firearms. Uttar Pradesh accounted for 45 per cent of all illegal weapons seized in the country in 2015.
The rise in violent crime at the national level was 341.9 per cent in the year 1991, since the year 1961. One of the direct consequences of flagrant use of the small arms has been large scale migration of landless labour from UP and Bihar to other parts of the country. It has created a sizable section of internally displaced persons. During the Delhi riots, painful scenes of such an exodus were clearly visible.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and strategic affairs commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal