Crime, gun ownership – and India
“Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest.” (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in An Autobiography: The Story of my Experiments with Truth.)
Gun ownership has long been suspected as the main reason behind the crime rates in the US. The most recent argument against theory is spate of bank robberies possibly – which dilutes this argument, at least partially. Estimates of the national stock of guns in the US varies between 40 million to 50 million households which own 200 million guns.
To make sense of gun-control, a look at the world’s second largest gun-stock can be useful. Recent estimates show that India is the second largest gun owning population in the world- with 4.6 crores (46 million) guns. Mos these are illegal – and unlicensed. In the hands of the poor. Made by thousands of small factories dotted across North and North-East India.
One report report states that UP alone has 900,000 licensed fire arm holders and 1,400 arms dealers. Another report estimates more than 3 lakh illegal firearms in New Delhi alone.
Guns – Made in India
India has a large domestic cottage industry in gun manufacture. Centred around UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, these manufacturers supply guns to the underworld and the general population – at a cost of Rs.1000-2000 (US$20-US$40) per unit.
The other place where these guns are being manufactured – and creating mayhem is in North East India. The North East is also the porous border where drugs from the Golden Triangle are smuggled into India, for transit through the Mediterranean, through small Indian fishing boats. This drug-related violence is camouflaged as a separatist and secessionist movements.
Return on investment
The ‘economic’ logic of using these guns for crime is overwhelming. ‘Invest’ Rs.1000 (US$20) and make a ‘snatch’ of Rs.10,000 (US$200). UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are less than 48 hours away, from any part of the country, by train. Train tickets cost less than Rs.200 (US$4). The cost of these guns ranges between Rs.1000-2000 (US$20-US$40).
With such cheap guns, available in plenty, India should be overwhelmed by crime. These illegal firearms can be easily disposed – and hence ‘safe’.
A journalist figures out that
“These days kattas are much in demand because unemployment is increasing. So to survive, people have taken to these crimes. It’s easy money. You buy a gun for Rs1,500, and use it to snatch away Rs10,000-15,000,” he says.
Gun-making is a kind of cottage industry in towns across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh
Heart of darkness
UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh were the heart of the British Raj – where land was taken away from peasants and handed over to ‘zamindars’. These ‘zamindars’ in turn rented out this land to the peasants – and with the excess produce paid the British Raj. This ‘injustice by the ‘zamindars’ theme was played out in countless Indian films, till a decade ago.
India’s all-time biggest block buster, ‘Sholay’ was inspired by this same theme – but with a benign
‘zamindar’. With land reform, migration to urban areas, the edge of this injustice has been blunted – and this theme is now a rarity.
Unlike Europe, agricultural land in India was owned by the peasants till the arrival of British colonialism. Serfdom and landless peasants were a colonial British creation.
Apart from UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, the development record and law and order situation is far better in other states, which had mixed administration, with local kings and colonial administrators. These areas did not see this land ‘re-distribution’ to such an intensity.
Is the current law and order problem in UP, Bihar and MP a colonial legacy?
A million militias
The War of 1857 carried on for about 4 years – and it were these small ‘workshops’ that turned out the munitions. After the end of the war, the British ensured that no Indian was allowed to own guns – except if allowed by his White masters.
These ‘workshops’ were later used by the ‘zamindars’ to arm their enforcers to extract ‘dues’ from the peasants. The peasants in turn also bought weapons from these gunsmiths to protect themselves against the agents of the Raj.
The spectre of Muslim gunsmiths
Muslims gunsmiths dominate this business – as can be seen from these reports. But the Indian Muslim, has like the rest of the country, not used these firearms dangerously. This is a strong argument against the oppression of the Muslim in India argument.
How long would it take to create a religious jihadi militia? That too, at such a low cost.
But what is the question …
Which brings us back to the central question? Is there a causal link between gun ownership and crime? Are these directly related and proportionate?
How can India have such a low prison population, with a poor police-to-population ratio and a crime rate which is not above the average – in spite of a large civilian gun population. The answer goes back to Lipit Ishtar, Hittite laws, Hammurabi et al – 4000 years back in history.