No Licence to Kill: How Desi Guns Wrought Havoc During Delhi Riots

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Photo used for illustrative purposes only.

About 80 per cent of murders in which firearms have been used involve illegal weapons, including country-made ones, with Meerut in Uttar Pradesh being the latest hotspot for desi weapons for Delhi gangs.

Aaqib Fayaz and Saleem Javeed  | Clarion India

ON July 20, a few miscreants accosted journalist Vikram Joshi, working with Ghaziabad’s Jansagar Today, and shot him in the head near his home in Ghaziabad’s Vijay Nagar area in Uttar Pradesh. The incident which was captured by a nearby CCTV camera shows that around 10:30 pm, when he was coming back after attending his niece’s party with his two daughters, the assailants attacked him.

While one rained blows on Joshi, others pulled out a firearm and shot him in the head. Joshi immediately collapsed to the ground. He succumbed to his injuries on July 22. The family of the 35-year-old scribe alleged that Joshi had seen the men who shot him, informed the police and then also made several calls to the police for help.

According to a statement by the police, the assailants used a 0.315 bore country-made pistol in the shooting incident.

This is not the first time in which country-made pistols have been used. In the past, there have been many incidents where desi kattas were used. Most of the gun-haul is with country-made specials, crude but sure-fire weapons for neutralising the targets.

The gun-running trade is illegally flourishing and making for a safe choice to engage in crime.

Earlier in February this year, when riots broke out in Delhi’s Jafferabad area, which claimed 53 lives, the Delhi police reported that country-made-pistols were used in the bloody violence, and the desi kattas were brought to Delhi from parts of western Uttar Pradesh. The police also confirmed that this was the first communal riot, in which a huge amount of such crude weapons were used. Apart from those who were killed, some 200 others sustained serious injuries due to gunshots, sharp-edged weapons, stone-pelting and even falls sustained from buildings during the violence.

A police officer said weapons were suspected to have reached the national capital through UP, Bihar, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, which are well-known routes for the smuggling of illegal firearms into Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).

The Delhi police also claimed to have recovered over 500 empty cartridges, which include those of 0.32 bore, 9 mm and even 0.315 bore pistols from the riot-hit areas in Northeast Delhi, and that these were fired from weapons used by the rioters.

“A country-made pistol, which is manufactured in Bihar’s Munger district costing Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000, gets sold at a price range between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000 by the time it reaches Delhi,” said a police officer.

On February 1, 2020, when Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh sit-in protests were taking place over the potential nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a shooter who identified himself as Kapil Gujjar, a Class 12 dropout, used a country-made pistol to fire at the protesters, as per the police statement.

The incident came two days after another gunman, Gopal, used a desi gun to fire at the students of the Jamia Millia Islamia university, who were protesting the CAA outside the campus. In the firing incident, one student, Shadab Farooq, was injured after being hit by a bullet in his hand. Gopal was later booked under the Arms Act and a case of attempt-to-murder was lodged against him as reported by the Statesman newspaper.

“Due to increasing unemployment, kattas are in demand these days. To survive people are taking to these crimes now. It is an easy way to get money. They buy a gun for Rs 1,500 and use it for robbing Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000,” said a police officer.

The katta is fashioned from a rusty pipe attached to a crude wooden grip and a trigger. It costs Rs 1,000-Rs 1,500 but can match a regular pistol that would come with a price tag of at least Rs 30,000-Rs 35,000.

About 80 per cent of murders in which firearms have been used involve illegal weapons, including country-made ones, points out another report in the Indian Express, with Meerut in Uttar Pradesh being the latest hotspot for desi weapons for Delhi gangs.

The Delhi police have in the past seized locally-made weapons multiple times during raids. Reports also indicate that the police have been aware of the improving quality of these crude weapons.

Between 2012 and 2015, the police registered 3,391 cases and recovered 2,585 illicit arms, mostly of high quality, and 29,636 cartridges.

How country-made pistols are manufactured

Most of the home-made weapons are manufactured from what is now much larger and more organised than a cottage industry. It is an open secret that the illegal trade is operating from the inner alleys of the townships in Rajasthan Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and now Delhi. A gun, once made from steel piping, has now moved upwards in terms of technology, with lathes and machining tools being employed for a finer product.

Vikas, 45, an armorer from Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, has been working in the manufacturing of country-made pistols for 15 years. For almost two to three years, he learned the skill of making pistols with the help of his neighbour, who was a very famous armorer in the village. Every day, he makes a single piece of katta which he usually sells to his customers through middlemen for around Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 for a katta, and a rifle for Rs 17,000 to Rs 18,000. 

“I have not gone to China or Japan to get the training, but it was my neighbour under whom I have learnt the skills of making the weapons. During elections in the country, our demand increases in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. We produce all sorts of arms, including 30.06 bore pistols and rifles or even approximates of the 7.62 self-loading rifle,” says Vikas.

Most of the manufacturers aren’t aware about their customers. They deal only with the middlemen or the suppliers whose job is to transport the arms to their final destination.

“We do not know who has placed the orders for the arms. We deal with the middlemen because we know and trust them. The unemployment of the country forces us to work in this profession,” admits Vikas.

“It’s easy for us to get the customers. We sell some pieces to our suppliers. They promote our products in the market through which we get more buyers. So it works like a chain,” says a manufacturer.

“Depending on the volume, we pass the order to different manufacturers who get their payment against cash soon after the delivery. We then send the consignment to the supplier through our people and get the payment. Generally, the goods are not caught because the police, transport and courier agents are paid. Finally, the arms are delivered to the clients. In case of seizure, the supplier bears the loss,” he explains.

Rohit, a 30-year-old resident of Dundawal village of Bharatpur District of Rajasthan, bought a 0.315-bore, country-made pistol two years ago for Rs 500 through a middleman in Rajasthan. With crimes on the rise in his locality, he keeps the pistol under his belt for safety.

“We live in a violence-prone area where crime happens every other day. So, I always keep the pistol for safety. It is very easy to get a pistol. You just have to look for a middleman who sells these pistols, pay him the amount and he will give you without any need for a licence. Each and every member of my family has a katta, ” says Rohit.

“It took me two to three months to learn to use the pistol. First, I feared that the police might question me about where I had got the pistol, but that never happened,” he smiles.

Arms Act in India

On paper, India has very stringent gun laws. The Arms Act of 1959 was updated and reinforced in 2016, mandating licences for even .177 and .22 air rifles, making it the toughest gun law globally. Ownership is an arduous process. It has turned to mush in terms of safety as the illegal trade has allowed for more than 40 million illegal weapons to hit the market in this century.

In India, acquiring firearms is a privilege and not a constitutional right (like in the US). In fact, Arms Rules, 2016 apply to even air guns. However, the process of procuring a licence is difficult and often takes months. They are granted only after a thorough assessment, including background checks.

In order to acquire or possess or carry any arms, it is essential to obtain an arms possession licence from a competent licensing authority. This is stated under Section 3 of The Arms Act, 1959. Section 25 of the Act is a penal provision and states that a person who carries ammunition in contravention of Section 3 is liable to be punished under the Act.

An exception to this rule is elucidated by the section itself, that is, a person, under the written authority of the licence holder or in his presence, may carry firearms for the purposes of any repair, or renewal or use.

Section (25of the Act states that “no person shall acquire, have in his possession, or carry any firearm or ammunition unless he holds in this behalf a licence issued in accordance with the provisions of this Act ”.

For manufacturing, the Act under Section (3) and (4) states that “a person who sells or transferred any firearm or ammunition in respect of which a licence is required under Section 3 or any arms in respect of which a licence is required under Section 4, shall, immediately after the sale or transfer, inform in writing the district magistrate having jurisdiction or the officer in charge of the nearest police station, of such sale or transfer and the name and the address of the other provision to whom the firearm, ammunition or other arms has or have been sold or transferred”. 

With just about 10 in 100 homicides using guns, Indians are less likely to be killed by firearms. But more than 90% of deaths by firearms have been caused using an unlawfully-held weapon, a trend noticed year after year.

Crimes like mass shootings are rarely witnessed in India, but gun violence even in road rage cases is not uncommon. While strict gun laws do succeed in restricting access to guns to an extent, illegal gun ownership is a matter of concern.

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(For security reasons, some names have been changed. The views expressed here are authors’ personal )

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