Indian politicians are armed to the teeth -- not only are members of parliament in New Delhi provided with protection by the state, many officials have taken it upon themselves to buy guns for their own personal security.
Even MPs who have been charged with criminal offenses have easily purchased weapons.
According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms, or ADR, an Indian group that seeks electoral reforms and transparency in politics, between 1987 and 2012, 756 guns were purchased by MPs and other senior government officials; and between 2001 and 2012, a total of 82 MPs purchased weapons directly from the state at below-market prices. (These were illegal imported weapons confiscated by the government.) In many cases, MPs have acquired automatic and semi-automatic weapons, which are usually the provenance of the military or terrorist and extremist organizations and prohibited for ordinary citizens.
Amazingly, 18 of these 82 MPs are facing criminal charges, including murder, attempted murder and kidnapping.
In perhaps the most extreme case, an MP named Atiq Ahmed from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, who has been described as a ganglord, is facing 44 separate criminal cases, including accusations of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and extortion.
Other shady gun-buyers include Abu Asim Azmi from Maharashtra and Rakesh Sachan from Uttar Pradesh, each of whom are facing seven criminal cases, again, including such grave charges of kidnapping and attempted murder.
The report raises a number of troubling questions. As ADR points out, why are only politicians permitted to purchase confiscated weapons? Why are lawmakers who facing serious criminal charges allowed to acquire an arsenal of weapons? Why are private citizens not allowed to buy guns confiscated by government customs? Does the government track the sale of such guns, especially if they are illegal weapons or have been taken from the black market?
Corruption and Indian politics go hand-in-hand -- indeed, almost one-third of MPs in the lower house are currently facing criminal charges, while sitting in parliament -- but the easy availability of weapons presents a new wrinkle on that age-old paradigm.
Politicians and criminals (or a combination thereof) are not the only people in India who are packing -- the country is awash in guns, both legal and illegal.
According to GunPolicy.org, an international firearm prevention campaigner, India has about 40 million guns held by civilians, giving it the second-highest number of privately held guns in the world. Only about 6.3 million of those weapons are registered, which means that almost 34 million illegal weapons are floating around the country.
An increasing number of Indian women are also buying guns to protect themselves from rapists and kidnappers.
The number of guns held by Indian civilians far surpasses the amount of weapons held by the military (5.7 million) and the police (3 million).
However, interestingly, as gun ownership has risen in India, the number of homicides has actually declined. Indeed, the number of deaths caused by firearms (as well as the rate of all gun-related deaths) was in cut in half between 1999 and 2008.
India has gun control laws that seeks to regulate the private ownership of weapons; however, given India's vast size and the chaotic nature of its society, such regulations mean very little.
Abhijeet Singh, chief operating officer of Greatech Software Solutions Inc. in New Delhi, is a firm believer in the right to possess guns. He explained why citizens needs to be armed.
“Curtailing gun ownership, to curb violent crime, through denying licenses or making legal arms and ammunition ridiculously expensive is based on flawed reasoning,” he wrote.
“The fact is that licensed firearms are found to be used in a statistically insignificant number of violent crimes; motorcycles and cars are far more dangerous. The certainty that a potential victim is unarmed is an encouragement to armed criminals. Less guns, more crime. Most violent crimes involving firearms are committed using untraceable illegal guns. Terrorists or the mafia are not going to be deterred by gun-control laws; they will be willing and able to procure arms of their choice and use them to commit crimes irrespective of any laws. Ironically in India, it is cheaper … to buy the same gun in the black market than it is to buy it legally!”
To contact the editor, e-mail: