The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Landlords’ legacy in gun glut

Keshpur, Sept. 25: The guns that refuse to fall silent in this terror belt of Bengal had, believe it or not, arrived as status symbols for landlords.

“They were like today’s mobile phones; anyone who had the means began purchasing rifles and applying for licences since 1972 so that they could flaunt them. By 1977, there were about 700 licensed firearms in Keshpur,” said Intaj Ali, a CPM zonal committee member and panchayat samity functionary.

Today, up to 3,000 firearms are put to use in the bloody encounters between bitter rivals, CPM and the Trinamul Congress. Most of these arms are illegal “muskets”, Ali said.

The landlords who nurtured the dangerous gun culture preferred the bigger rifles and shotguns to pistols and revolvers. “During matchmaking, the groom’s family would invariably be asked if there was a rifle at home,” Ali said.

In last Sunday’s encounter, more than 200 rounds were fired, said deputy superintendent of police Mrinal Majumdar. A fact that clearly shows the locals are armed to their teeth.

Majumdar said there were about 700 licenced arms in Keshpur, but Ali put the figure at 850. “During the violence of 1998, Trinamul ‘controlled’ these arms. The CPM then gained a toehold in the area and regained ‘control’ over them. These licenced arms were the ones our partymen used to resist the Trinamul attackers last Sunday,” Ali claimed.

But the arms recovered from the scene of the clash at Kota-Piasala this time were mostly illegal “muskets”. According to locals, these are made out of galvanised iron pipes and fire .303 shells. These “muskets” have to be rested after two shots as their barrels run the risk of exploding. The “muskets” are put together for just Rs 500.

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