It could be a new measure of women’s emancipation or just a passing fad, but Delhi Police has been stumped by the huge number of working women seeking gun licences. The trend is partly a response to the city’s lawlessness but may also reflect the growing need of women to be in control, claim senior officers.
In the past two years, Delhi cops have received over 900 applications for guns from women. While year 2010 saw around 320 applications, the figure had grown to around 500 in 2011. But it’s not only the numbers that’s a break from the past. There’s a change as well in the reasons cited by women for bearing arms.
“Women earlier mostly cited the inheritance clause – saying their fathers or husbands had a licence which they want to continue holding. Many women applying under this clause were proxies for men who themselves would not have got a licence. But of late women are citing ‘self-defense’ to apply for a licence,” said an officer in the licencing department.
In general, 20-22% of all applicants are now women. The officer said 27 licences were issued to women in 2010. Of these, 17 were those who had applied under the inheritance clause. In 2011, 33 women were granted gun licences, 12 of whom had cited self-defense as a reason.
Till July this year, five women have been granted licences on the basis of personal threats and six on the inheritance clause. In 2010 and 2011, over 600 rejected applications were rejected as no “personal safety threat was assessed”.
Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Chaudhry, herself a gun licence holder, was recently quoted as saying that women need guns more than men “who flaunt the weapons at weddings”.
Mridula Nandy, who unsuccessfully attempted to get a license last year, expresses a similar view. “They kept on asking what do I have to fear. Well, I stay in a place where I am taunted on the roads. At night, I feel unsafe. I will not necessarily fire at someone but a gun boosts confidence,” she said.
Interestingly, even as Indian shooters are doing reasonably well at the Olympic Games bagging silver and a bronze, some women are also applying for gun licences to pursue sport. While two women were granted license under the sports quota, the number doubled in 2011. This year, three women have already been granted licences for pursuing shooting.
In general, police are accused of being too strict while granting women licenses, with the age old inheritance clause still being is the surest way of acquiring a licence. Some allege “a recommendation from a higher up” is crucial in securing a licence.
Delhi Police personnel deny the charges, claiming the criteria for both sexes remain the same. “We grant licenses on three accounts. We check whether the woman has to travel alone at night, whether she is being stalked or harassed or whether she visits a crime-prone area,” said a senior police officer.
He added, “India cannot be seen as a state that promotes guns, unlike some western nations. We will ask everyone to go through the necessary checks and balances.”