Delhi women rush for guns after fatal gang rape

Hundreds of applications for firearms licences underpins the sense of insecurity in the wake of sexual attack and murder of student

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 5:42am


Hundreds of women in Delhi have applied for gun licences following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman by six men in a bus in the city last month.

The news underlines the widespread sense of insecurity in the city, deep before the incident and deeper now, as well as the lack of faith in law enforcement agencies.

The ashes of the victim of the attack - who died on Friday after 13 days in hospitals in India and Singapore and was cremated in Delhi in a secret ceremony under heavy security on Sunday - were scattered on the Ganges River, sacred to Hindus, in northern India on Tuesday.

The case has provoked an unprecedented debate about endemic sexual harassment and violence in India. Tens of thousands have protested across the country, calling for harsher laws, better policing and a change in culture.

The rush for firearms will cause concern, however. Police in Delhi have received 274 requests for licences and 1,200 inquiries from women since December 18, two days after the victim and her boyfriend were attacked in a bus cruising on busy roads between 9pm and 10pm.

"Lots of women have been contacting us, asking for information about how to obtain licences Any woman has a threat against her. It's not surprising. There are fearless predators out there," said Abhijeet Singh, of the pro-gun campaign group Guns For India.

Delhi police received 500 applications for the whole of 2011, up from 320 in 2010.

Hundreds of women had come in person to the police licensing department in the city, The Times of India reported.

There are estimated to be 40 million guns in India, the second highest number in the world after the US. Licences are hard to obtain and most are illegal weapons, many manufactured in backstreet workshops. Official ownership levels remain low - three guns for every 100 people - but in recent years, the number of women in possession of arms has risen. Most are wealthy and worried about theft or assault.

There are fears the brutal attack will lead to further restrictions on women in India, who suffer significant constraints.

Elders in Matapa, in the poverty stricken Indian state of Bihar, banned the use of mobile phones by teenage girls and warned them against wearing "sexy" clothes. They claim the move will check rape cases and restore "social order". Other villages nearby were planning similar bans, locals said.

One member of parliament in Rajasthan, the northwestern state, also called for a ban on skirts for schoolgirls to keep them away from "men's lustful gazes". Banwari Lal Singhal said private schools allowing students to wear skirts explained increased sexual harassment locally.

Matapa is in southern Bihar's Aurangabad district - the region from where one of the Delhi gang-rape accused, Akshay Thakur, comes from. The order was issued after a formal meeting with villagers, council officials and school teachers on Sunday.

"Almost every villager pressed us to ban the mobile phones use by the schoolgirls, saying they are proving quite dangerous for society and corrupting traditional values," the village council head Sushma Singh said.

Protesters were angered by the news.

"Our sister will have died in vain if all that is happening after is that our fear is greater and women are more unfree," said Deepti Anand, a 21-year-old student in Delhi who has attended rallies most days in recent weeks.