It’s hard to look at India and not wonder what happened to the once thriving culture and home to the man of peace, Mahatma Gandhi. Today, it is defined by violence against women that is brutal, systemic and pervasive, leaving no individual woman safe from its grip on society. The 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a 23 year-old woman on a public bus and subsequent arrests, convictions and death sentences have done little to quell the violence. Last week, a 51 year-old tourist was gang raped when she stopped to ask directions to her hotel.
India’s President, Pranab Mukherjee, met with the family of a teen who was gang raped, reported it to the police, then raped again after leaving the police station and set on fire. These stories are commonplace. Stronger laws have been implemented, but short of bodyguards, it seems little can be done, especially when faced with a male mob intent on rape. Why the rise?
Ranjana Kumari, director of the pro-feminist thinktank the Centre for Social Research told the Guardian, “Patriarchal traditions led men to use rape as a tool to instil fear in women.”
Fortunately, the defense ministry has come up with something that not many (sane) people would consider – arm women with guns made especially for them, all sanctioned by the Indian government. The Indian Ordnance Factory, part of India’s defense ministry, created a .32 bore lightweight revolver being touted as “India’s first firearm designed for women.” According to the Times of India, the decision to create the weapon was to give, “more power to women to defend themselves and as a tribute to December 2012 gang rape victim Nirbhaya.” A tribute?
Senior Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer, Arun Kumar, has apparently been watching too many western movies. While the Nirbheek as it is referred to, is getting negative feedback, Kumar tells the Times of India, “Once a target of rape whips out a handgun, the element of surprise is sure to scare the life out of most of the persons who attempt rape,” he said. “In most of criminal cases in India, the perpetrator, irrespective of whether armed or not, neither expects nor faces any stiff resistance from the target. Women carrying small handguns will surely make a difference to the tendency.”
The Nirbheek has a price tag around $1900, making it out of reach for most Indian women. The .32 caliber also is unlikely to stop the rapist with one shot (one shot stop) AND guns are illegal in many areas. In terms of self-defense, I had the pleasure of interviewing Casey Retterer, director of training for the Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range for Gun Digest last summer, a local club owned by sisters, Cara Workman and Robyn Workman Marzullo. Retterer’s four safety tips are a cautionary tale for Kumar and any woman buying a gun in India for self-defense. During our interview, Retterer was quick to point out both the safety issues as well as how fear plays a part in reaction time and outcomes. In other words, to assume that a woman being approached by a man/men is going to “whip out” a firearm and be in control of a frightening incident is absurd. A firearm puts women at even greater risk.
The only way to stop the brutality is through a cultural change and the only way to do that is for leaders to affect change. India is one of the top most dangerous countries for women according to a Thomas Reuters poll. Meeting violence with violence focuses on the symptom. Find the disease and cure it so that women can truly be free in the world’s largest democracy.