Is gun replacing deadly sickle? – Col. R. Hariharan

Col R Hariharan

October 13, 2012 Chennai

Two recent incidents of crime using revolvers in quick succession in and around Chennai show gun culture is making headway in Tamil Nadu. The significance of real estate business connections in these incidents cannot be ignored at a time when ‘land grabbing’ cases is hogging the headlines. People are shocked because they are brought up on the myth that Tamil Nadu is an amaithy poonga (garden of peace) unlike North Indian states like the UP or Bihar known for their gun culture.

Though Tamil Nadu is generally peaceful, violent crimes are not unknown, particularly in Southern parts. They are usually acts of passion driven by broken relationships and family feuds. The Veech aruval – a type of machete – is the traditional weapon of choice for settling scores. The aruval has a cult status; it is even worshipped along with the gods. The nagging question: is the gun replacing the veech aruval? It seems so.

Traditionally guns are displayed as a symbol of prestige; it is not uncommon in rural North India to hear volleys of gun fire in wedding processions. Thanks to Hollywood movies and their Indian clones, guns are now a part of macho identity. These ‘soft persuaders’ have made guns more acceptable to society even as organized crime is providing a hard entry for guns into our daily life. Even kids seem to prefer real life imitations of AK47 automatics for toys.

But growing use of arms has political and law enforcement issues as well. Politicization of criminals provides a great incentive for the growth of gun culture. The use of muscle power for assertion of political power appears to be the unwritten norm now. Its political role has a self-sustaining relationship with other criminal acts like trafficking in drugs and women, corruption and money laundering. Over the years, people appear to have accepted this phenomenon as their karma though acts of nexus between criminals and the politicians continue to come under the glare of media.

So it is not surprising that people voted to elect 148 Lok Sabha members – that is nearly a third of the total MPs – facing criminal! The information provided under the right to information act also said 74 of them faced serious criminal charges like murder and abduction. But wait, the icing on the cake is 18 of them were among the 82 Lok Sabha members who purchased guns sold by the state between 2001 and 2012. And one of them held the dubious record of having 44 criminal cases pending against him (probably creating yet another Limca Record).

Abuse of law enforcement and criminal justice system provide hot house conditions for the growth of gun culture. Despite the recommendations of police commissions, police operation continues to be hampered by political interference and money power. The lumbering criminal justice system, with built-in delays and ponderous procedures, enable the criminal to use it to his advantage. In addition to this, we have nearly a third of the country is facing armed extremism of some kind or other. Weapon smugglers find them a lucrative market and illegal weapons find their way from neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Myanmar clandestinely.

Guns are here to stay. So what is the way out? Political will is the fundamental requirement to combat gun culture. Political parties need to focus attention on curbing and eliminating their use with holistic strategies involving social, political and organizational spheres by revamping systems and procedures to make illegal trafficking and use of weapons dangerous for the criminal. Elimination of guns should become a part of the national political and social movements. Do we have the will to do so?

Col R Hariharan
Retired military intelligence officer.

He writes and comments on strategic issues.
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