New Internationalist

Pink pistols to see off rapists? Don’t make me laugh

Vigil in India [Related Image]
Silent protests were part of India's response to 2012's gang rape. Is a gun a fitting tribute to the woman who died? Ramesh Lalwani under a Creative Commons Licence

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.

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  1. #1 Ludwig Pesch 30 Jan 14

    Thought provoking and timely as ever - thanks Mari!
    Long live Gandhi's message: every generation needs to bring about necessary change through by non-violent means, social service on a voluntary basis, and role models to emulate in our midst. In other words, involving all of society (except for vendors of arms and other shady 'entrepreneurs', and criminals that stand to gain from further escalation).
    Heartening to see your reflections spread far and wide. Looking forward to more.

  2. #2 Pravin Mahajan 30 Jan 14

    Hi Mari, though I completely agree with you, I wonder whether stupid solutions like pink pistol should be a subject of your blog. Please don't waste your time on such stupid things.

  3. #3 ST 30 Jan 14

    Pink pistols indeed. I wonder if enabling women to carry such an expensive gun on their person, will make them more vulnerable to attack rather than protecting them. The men prone to violence against women are now likely to see this as a double reward - not just the rape but the additional trophy of an expensive handgun.

    I have always felt that non-violence was as much a strategic choice as an ideological one - the violence of the defender (not prone to violence) can never match the violence of the perpetrator. A friend argued that this will give women a feeling of power. That's absolutely right - just a feeling not real power. Con women into feeling they are secure.

    There is no doubt, that we have to tackle the ingrained and deep rooted malaise of violence against women - but with hand guns?
    It goes back to individualising the violence and the response to it. We need not do anything to change a male dominated patriarchal society - we'll just let the woman protect herself.

    Talking to some of the young women on our team - sexual harassment which is invariably physical - when they travel on buses to and from work is an absolutely routine everyday affair. Do we expect them to deal with it by pulling out their guns on a daily basis or should we think of other ways of making our buses, our streets - in fact most of all our homes - safer for women?

    I don't know the answer - but I cannot imagine a pink pistol in a burgundy jewel case is the answer.

  4. #4 kamla bhasin 31 Jan 14

    My dear Mari,

    Excellent and quick piece. Congratulations and love

    Kamla

  5. #5 Josette 31 Jan 14

    Violence against women appears to be a real problem. Of course it should be stopped, but are we going to fight violence with violence??? Incidentally while reading,I spontaneously thought of Gandhi ... I think his teaching is a better example to be followed; is it not more consonant with the Indian mentality?
    Josette

  6. #6 Ludwig Pesch 31 Jan 14

    i strongly disagree with the Pravin's well-meant advice: it's going to be a real issue unless tackled early on. just have a look at the situation in the US where neighbourhoods (incl. a Californian peaceoving friend) have to endure the presence of loaded guns in their midst, legally so even if owner has a mental disorder or drug abuse record.
    Would Indian or European women feel, let alone be safer if engaging in an arms race in which neither the wealthy ones nor their poorer peers stand a chance against predators?
    The latter are bound to feel perversely motivated to push the frontiers even further. Instead, give the law enforcement side a chance and reinvigorate efforts to make the authorities accountable for their role in it. naming and shaming for neglect will work better than any number of bullets.
    And Mari, do keep writing on the issues you strongly feel about asthis one!

  7. #7 chcandrika sen sharma 31 Jan 14

    Pink Guns yet!! What will they think of next! This is the most absurd thing that I've heard off, and in India of all places! Women in India don't need guns against their rapists as you have so clearly pointed out, Mari, they need laws in effect that immediately put rapists in jail when the rape is reported and proved - regardless of who it is.
    Poor women in India are truly the most helpless of victims.

  8. #8 chandrika sen sharma 31 Jan 14

    Pink Guns yet!! What will they think of next! This is the most absurd thing that I've heard off, and in India of all places! Women in India don't need guns against their rapists as you have so clearly pointed out, Mari, they need laws in effect that immediately put rapists in jail when the rape is reported and proved - regardless of who it is.
    Poor women in India are truly the most helpless of victims.

  9. #9 Poonam 31 Jan 14

    The OBR, One Billion Rising campaign is an ideal platform. We want safety not guns should be the slogan.

    Poonam

  10. #10 Communal 01 Feb 14

    Caste system along with poverty has seeded sadists/savages in India. India is going to end up as Africa where gang rape is a hate crime and/or a means to take revenge.

  11. #11 Cynthia Stephen 01 Feb 14

    Mari, I couldn't agree more. The Ordnance factory is a government institution and surely should not be reinforcing the message that violence against women needs to be countered by more violence by the victims. Self-defence is a state of mind and skill, not a gun. And world over, we are trying to move to a situation of less, not more guns - the school and university carnages we painfully witness every year in the US is clearly linked to the issue of gun control there. With the total laxity in implementing the issue of firearms in India, one shudders to think of what will happen if these proposed pink pistols end up - like many other things designed for women - in the wrong hands. And anyway, it might be better for the government to use scarce resources to think of hiring, training and deploying more policemen and women, and also implementing thier laws with greater vigour than trying to manufacture expensive guns which only the most elite classes can afford. In which bubble do the government's decision-makers live?

  12. #12 Rahul 18 Jun 14

    It just seems the society doesn't want to see the obvious. We just want an instant ready made solution to any issue and then move on!

    I wonder whether it is because we are disconnected from our culture.

    There are people like Mari who are working on instilling the cultural values in adivasi kids, the indian mainstream it seem believes they are too 'progressive' to do something like that.

  13. #13 david cohen 07 Aug 14

    Here it is six moths after Mari Marcel Thekaekara's powerful blog on the absurdity of pink pistols to fight rape and only the feminist movement keeps at it recognizing that violence cannot be fought with violence.

    http://newint.org/blog/2014/01/30/sexual-violence-pink-pistols-india/

    Officialdom in so many places wallows in inaction and inattentiveness to the problem. It has to be exposed and shamed!

    Let us begin by identifying ten people--women and men, civil society and officials-- who are making a difference in each of our jurisdictions, salute them and get their stories out so they inspire others

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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