It’s true. India presents its women with a gun to defend themselves. A pretty pink handgun, no less. It will be named ‘Nirbheek’ – which means ‘fearless’ in Hindi – and is intended as a tribute to the 23-year-old student whose brutal attack in India’s capital in 2012 sparked outrage.
The gun, however, will cost 122,360 rupees (US $2,228) – far more than most poor women’s wages for an entire a year. Which means around 90 per cent of Indian women could never afford one, even supposing they yearned for it.
The average Indian household is not trigger happy. Guns are generally owned by gangsters, who routinely kill each other in our larger cities. And by private security guards who are armed to protect the rich and famous, both in cities and rural areas. Normal folk wouldn’t even think of buying a gun. The Nirbheek apparently, is a light-weight 0.32 bore revolver. Most women’s groups think it’s a bad joke.
Kamla Bhasin, founding member of the women’s rights group Sangat, and a mover-shaker of the One Billion Rising South Asia movement, writes: ‘We need to speak against it everywhere before this too becomes a violent way to fight violence.’
But middle-class India, rushing into the consumerist mode in the most frenzied manner imaginable, could very well become captivated with the gimmicky marketing of the ‘pink pistol’. We learn fast; our films and music mimic Hollywood, adding that particularly ‘Indian masala or spice’ to grab the attention of different segments of society. According to a BBC interview with the General Manager of the Indian Ordinance Factory which produces the pink pistol, modelled on US versions, the Indian sales pitch goes one better. ‘Indian women like their ornaments,’ they say. Therefore, the Indian gun comes in a burgundy jewellery case.
Indian feminists ask more pertinent questions. Will guns protect women who are raped by family members or friends? Trafficking statistics show that more and more Indian girls are being sold into the sex trade, often by relatives and people they know. Perpetrators lurk in schools and colleges, in religious institutions, in places where no woman should expect to need protection.
A question that does not grab the attention of our middle classes or wealthy sections, is that poor women have always been raped by wealthy men with total impunity. Domestic workers brought from villages, forced to be live-in help are routinely ravaged, in much the same way as they were in Victorian England. Not many dared to protest then or now.
The other seriously neglected question is the rape and ongoing sexual violence perpetrated on dalit and adivasi women over the most innocuous, often merely perceived offences, to ‘teach the community’ a lesson. In central India, adivasi women are raped by the men in uniform because their men are dubbed ‘Maoist terrorists’. And then the real Maoist insurgents descend on adivasi women and rape them for ‘colluding’ with the armed forces. Women are raped in police stations by cops on duty and in the north east there have been protests against sexual molestation and rape for decades now. Few of these ‘official’ rapists are ever prosecuted.
This is why feminists and most thinking sections of Indian society are outraged and disgusted by the touting of the pink pistol as a cure for the deep seated malaise which is overtaking our society.
We most definitely need to tackle violence against women seriously. On a war footing, undoubtedly. But with pink pistols? That’s so ludicrous, it makes most Indian women want to puke.
Ironically, as I write, today is the anniversary of Gandhi’s death, the world’s biggest proponent of non-violence.