New Delhi, Dec. 31: The brutal bus gang rape on December 16 has sent women scurrying for gun licences in Delhi but activists say nothing will come of it unless police shed their bias against issuing the permits to women.
Dealers selling stun guns — devices that emit an electrical shock to immobilise a potential attacker for a few minutes — too say their sales have skyrocketed. The buyers are mostly parents of school or college girls, even policemen trying to ensure their daughters’ safety, they say.
In the first five days after the bus rape, Delhi police’s arms-licensing wing received over 400 applications from women, and 1,200 calls from working women and parents seeking details on how to procure gun licences.
The Telegraph had reported on July 31 how working women in Delhi were increasingly applying for gun licences over the past couple of years, but the average number of applications till mid-December was about 20 a month.
“The past few days’ surge in applications from women is unprecedented,” an officer at the arms-licensing department said on December 21. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Most calls are from city professionals, but some are from outside — parents whose daughters study in Delhi.”
Three women friends — a BPO worker and two Delhi University students, who didn’t want to be named — had rushed to the licensing department and applied for gun licences. On their way back home, they bought stun guns and pepper spray.
“Enough is enough. We have to find ways of protecting ourselves; the police have completely failed to make the city safe for women,” said the BPO worker, who is in her late 20s.
Seema Malik, who runs the NGO Mirchi Jhonk that educates women about the use of chilli powder in self-defence, said the time had come for women to carry guns.
“Carrying pepper spray... is not enough these days, as it is not a deterrent against four or five people,” she said. “A revolver has become essential, for the mere sight of it would scare off criminals.”
If it doesn’t, a woman marketing professional said, she wouldn’t hesitate to shoot.
“I always carry my .32 revolver in my handbag. It gives me a lot of confidence when I return home late at night,” said the professional, who didn’t want to be named, adding that she had received preliminary training in arms handling from the police.
She said she had a recommendation from a politician and so didn’t have problems acquiring a licence in 2011. Not every woman is so lucky.
Official records show that women are far less successful in securing gun licences than men — even though many male applicants keep a gun merely as a status symbol.
Of the 20-odd women who applied per month till now, less than one got the licence. “In the past three years, only 27 women were granted arms licences for self-protection,” an officer confirmed.
Some 1,000 men are issued gun licences in Delhi every year, of whom 500 to 600 get it for personal safety, 50 to 100 are shooting enthusiasts and the rest inherit the licence.
An officer at the arms-licensing department said the police would from now on “grant more gun licences to women applicants” but would not be more specific.
Women’s activists and gun owners’ bodies say most of the men who receive gun licences for personal safety are businessmen, such as jewellers who make huge financial transactions daily. This, they say, reflects a typically male interpretation of “threat perception”.
“The police ignore the gender-specific threats women face,” said Sarita Balmiki, a women’s activist. Rakshit Sharma, secretary-general of the National Association for Gun Rights in India, agreed.
At the interview, a woman is asked whether she: (a) lives alone; (b) returns home alone at night; (c) has been harassed or accosted by men before; and (d) lives in a crime-prone area.
The BPO worker and DU students who spoke to this newspaper said they felt helpless when the police asked them to prove there was a threat to their lives.
“It was so frustrating,” one of them said. “Every woman in Delhi faces a threat to her life after what has happened. Rapes have become routine here.”
Siddharth Gupta, a stun gun dealer, said that till now, he would sell between 1,000 and 2,000 devices a year, mainly to working women, mostly from call centres. “But now we are flooded with calls. Till December 20, nearly 500 women had booked the product over the phone,” he said.
Stun guns come in sizes similar to cellphones and cost Rs 3,000-4000. They work within a range of 5 to 6 metres and cause “temporary disorientation and loss of balance”, a dealer said. “A woman should hold her stun gun to the assailant until he drops.”