Fatalities from celebratory firing are just one of the reasons why stricter gun control along with checks on illegal arms are imperative
“Until we fix men, we need to fix the gun problem”, tweeted comedian Michael Ian Black, in the face of mass shootings in America. Here in India too, this is only too relatable where men have killed people on a spur-of-the-moment outburst, and as in the instances we will speak of now, in celebratory firing.
Why men feel the need to carry guns and fire in the air is again a notion deeply enshrined in the toxic masculinity that we live with. One of the victims of this is Archana Gupta. An architect, who was fatally injured by a stray bullet while out celebrating the coming of a new year.
A visibly distraught Vikas Gupta met us at the gate of the residence he had shared with his wife Archana. Her life cut short when a drunk former Janata Dal United (JDU) MLA Raju Singh fired in the air.
Another incident the same night saw an eight-year-old boy being killed, again by a stray bullet, while he celebrated outside his home in North East Delhi’s Usmanpur.
Here the tragedy has befallen the family because of the negligent actions of his own father who has been charged with murder. Yasin Mallik, the father, acknowledged to the police that he had taken the firearm from Ravi Kashyap, a resident of Puja Colony, Loni, in UP.
DCP North East, Atul Kumar Thakur says that the gun was unlicensed. He adds that Kashyap says he acquired the gun from his cousin who also lives in UP, suggesting a careless attitude to handling firearms.
These two incidents bring back to the forefront the trigger-happy actions of people. We look into the cases past and present, and at how many licenses have been given to persons in Delhi and its neighbouring states.
Murder at midnight
In the complaint filed by Vikas Gupta, he tells how the evening’s events changed their lives. Rose Farm, where the couple spent their last evening together, belongs to his friend Sanjeev Singh, “who I have known for more than 25 years”.
Note here that Singh’s brother is the accused Raju Singh.
At about 12 midnight, “There were celebrations and dancing on the DJ floor”. Gupta, his wife and daughter hugged and wished each other, after which “Archana went back to the dance floor”. At the same time, he saw Hari Singh (driver of the former MLA) fire two rounds from his rifle in the air, while Raju Singh fired 4-5 rounds.
Nothing untoward had happened till then. But five minutes later Raju Singh fired again. Gupta wrote, “I suddenly noticed that Archana had fallen down and I rushed towards her. She was unconscious and had blood on her face and near her on the DJ floor.” With the help of guests, he took her to Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj where she would pass away on January 3.
The pistol that Raju held during the fatal shot has licences for five states, according to DCP South, Vijay Kumar. Three of these states are Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Raju Singh had told police he sought the licence due to the threat of Naxal attacks in his home state of Bihar.
The police found that the bullet which claimed Archana’s life was a .22 pistol bullet and not from a rifle.
The rifle that Hari Singh held was registered in his name in 2001. Both had the required permits. After the incident, Police seized two rifles and 800 bullets from Raju Singh’s farmhouse in Ambedkar Colony.
Why he needed to maintain a stock of hundreds of bullets in the capital city is not known. The DCP on enquiry, said that persons having licences of various states have to inform the licensing authorities when they enter one with the gun. In this case, Raju Singh had done the needful.
The DCP goes on to add that a person like Raju Singh would get a license easily. “He was an MLA and his wife was an MLC so they can get licences. If somebody is firing in their farmhouse, then what can the licensing authority do about it?”
However, he added that the “law is there and his whole family is now in jail”.
Raju Singh, who had fled with his driver, was apprehended in Uttar Pradesh. Both have been charged under IPC Section 302, which pertains to murder, and is punishable with a maximum term of life imprisonment or death, and also under the Arms Act.
Raju Singh’s wife Renu, a former member of the Bihar legislative council, has been arrested for ensuring that the bloodstains were cleaned and the rounds hidden at the scene of crime. Raminder, who worked for them, has also been arrested for tampering with evidence and also trying to threaten the witnesses.
According to one report, there were two disk jockeys (DJs) at the farmhouse who told officers that the main accused continued drinking for an hour after the murder.
There is tragedy in death but especially so when it’s in a manner such as this — when money, power and or sheer egotistical boastfulness has led to the loss of a life.
Gun in my city
To know the scale of just how many guns are in Delhi and its neighbourhoods we looked to Lok Sabha records. According to answers by the Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, a total of 35,87,016 arms licenses are registered on the National Database of Arms Licence — Arms Licence Issuance (NDAL-ALIS) portal, up to December 4, 2018.
Also, according to the database, 4,57,489 new arms licences were issued and revalidated during the last three years.
In the capital city, the number of applications entered in NDAL with Unique Identification Number (UIN) is 38,969. Applications entered in ALIS with UIN was 1,651, bringing the total to 40,620.
Similarly, the number in Haryana was 1,45,690, and 6,474, respectively, bringing the total to 1,52,164. Uttar Pradesh is the topper among all states, a dubious honour. Applications entered in NDAL with UINs numbered 12,72,896, ALIS with UIN 15,563, bringing the total to a massive 12,88,459.
In Bihar, the ‘Application entered in NDAL with UIN’ is 79,065 with ‘Application entered in ALIS with UIN’ is 1,793, which adds up to a total of 80,858.
Taking year-wise data, the fact sheet shows the total of new gun licences and revalidation of gun licences entered during the last three years’ state-wise. Here we examine the lists for the years 2017 and 2018. In Delhi, under NDAL the number is listed as 0 in 2017 and 1,471 under ALIS; and 0 again for 2018 while 1,019 were under the ALIS in 2018. In Haryana, the number was 11 in 2017 (NDAL), and 15,810 under ALIS in 2017 and 10,999 in 2018. For Uttar Pradesh, it was 7 under NDAL and 28,741 under ALIS in 2017 and 1 and 36,196, respectively in 2018.
In Bihar, NDAL was 17 in 2017 and 5293 under ALIS in 2017, 0 and 7872 in 2018 respectively.
These numbers show just how many guns are there in our neighbourhoods, providing a clue to the possible number of guns coming into the Capital through the porous borders.
In 2018, several incidents had made people aware about the dangers that such celebrations entailed. All it took was one gun-toting person to ruin a family’s happiness.
In February, the love for guns resulted in the death of the groom as he rode his horse in the wedding ceremony. Someone in his wedding party opened fire, killing the 21-year-old Deepak Kumar in the Seemapuri area
Then an incident in May saw a man become the victim of a stray bullet as he celebrated the birth of his twin nephews in Delhi’s Bawana.
Celebratory firing is seen as a culturally acceptable practice in India and many countries in Asia and the Middle East. But looking at these incidents, it’s time for society to shun this practice.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Can persons apply for all-India validity?
The District Magistrate may grant all-India validity only to the categories of persons listed below:
a) Union Ministers or Member of Parliament;
b) Personnel of Defence Forces and Central Armed Police Forces;
c) Officers of All India Services;
d) Officers in the Government or Government Sector Undertakings or Public Sector Undertakings with liability to serve anywhere in India
e) Dedicated sports persons
In other cases, the powers to grant all-India validity are with the state government, which will decide on the application forwarded by the concerned District Magistrate.
Who gets a licence?
The obligations of the licensing authorities for grant of licences for permissible category of arms and ammunition have been brought in rule 20(3) of the Arms Rules, 2016, namely:
For grant of a licence for the permissible arms or ammunition specified in category III in Schedule I, and without prejudice to the provisions contained in clause (a) of subsection (3) of section 13, the licensing authority, based on the police report and on his own assessment, may consider the applications of:
(a) any person who by the very nature of his business, profession, job or otherwise has genuine requirement to protect his life and/or property; or
(b) any dedicated sports person being active member for the last two years, of a shooting club or a rifle association, licensed under these rules and who wants to pursue sport shooting for target practice in a structured learning process; or
(c) any person in service or having served in the Defence Forces, Central Armed Police Forces or the State Police Force and has genuine requirement to protect his life and/or
Celebratory or deadly?
By Shaunak Ghosh
It was a normal day in the life of Mangolpuri tea seller Shyam Sunder Kaushal’s family. He left home for his shop for the daily duties.
His 12-year-old daughter Anjali was back home. It was then that a marriage procession was passing by the area. Little did he know that the procession would forever change his life in 2016.
Someone in the colony rushed to tell him that his daughter got hit by a firecracker, and he rushed to the spot. However, he found out that it was not a firecracker that hit little Anjali but a bullet. Someone in the marriage procession fired in the air, and a bullet hit Anjali who was just watching the ceremony with curious eyes from her first floor balcony. She became a victim of celebratory firing, passing away two days later.
The misery for Shyam Sunder did not just end there. The police refused to register Kaushal’s complaint. When he sought the help of advocate Ashok Bajpai, things got worse. Police started harassing him, according to Bajpai, making Sunder sign a blank piece of paper.
An FIR was then registered which reportedly claimed that Sunder was with his daughter on the balcony when the incident took place. The police also forced him to change his statement and accuse a certain Vicky in the case.
“It was then that we filed a case in the High Court to change the investigating agency of the case from the Delhi Police to the Crime Branch, and the court obliged”, says advocate Bajpai.
The crime branch, after thorough investigation came to the conclusion that it was a man named Vikas who was the culprit, and according to Bajpai, the criminal case is still going on in the South Rohini court.
However, the battle did not stop here. “We also filed a PIL in the High Court where we sought more strict laws for celebratory firing, wherein not only the accused person, but the organiser of such events will also be held responsible”, says Bajpai.
Pertaining to this PIL, the Delhi High Court passed an order in 2016, where it ordered the Delhi government to make more provisions to curb the act of celebratory firings. “It has been almost three years, and the government has still not taken any action. We will soon file a contempt of court case against the Delhi government”.