All Guns Blazing
I drive on the streets of Delhi, I go to pubs and restaurants and I’ve stood on many a Delhi bus stand. Is it just a matter of time before the odds catch up with me?
Every single day, 12 Indians are shot dead. Their fate might be sealed by a sophisticated automatic rifle from the US or by a 2 rupee bullet from a 200 Rupee Katta. Both are equally effective.
The National Capital Region has over 90 thousand gun licenses. According to the Control Arms Foundation, there are actually three times as many fire arms in circulation. UP alone has 900 thousand arms license holders. But, has it made the state any safer?
India is the second most-armed nation in the world with over 40 million small arms in circulation today. We’re not on our way to becoming a gun crazy society, we already are. Not surprisingly, 99% of our countries small arms licence holders are men.
Binalakshmi Nepram knows that a gun in every hand will not make us a safer nation. She grew up in the north eastern state of Manipur and witnessed a 13 people massacre in 1984, when she was just a 3rd standard student. A few short years later, her niece stepped on a bomb on a playground. In 2002, her own mother, a highly awarded educator in Manipur, opened a school for underprivileged children, her noble deed was rewarded by a death threat in a popular regional newspaper.
“How could I turn my back and walk away? I decided to fight back, on behalf of every Indian who lives in fear”, she states.
In 2004, she co-founded the Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI). An all India society committed to finding solutions to end the ongoing armed violence caused by Small Arms, Light Weapons and Improvised Electronic Devices (SALWIEDS). CAFI is one of the only organisations in India to fill the existing void of informed debates and discussion on conventional disarmament in Indian civil society, with the aim to bring about lasting peace in the country and region.
She boldly stepped onto a fiercely-guarded men-only arena, pitting herself against people who’s patriotism is propped against the latest acquisition of high tech weaponry. Her work has special significance for Indian women, who’s voices and opinions were grossly underrepresented in decisions and policies about defence budgets and disarmament.
Binalakshmi rues that “for every rupee received in development assistance, our government spends ten on defence“. The key goal of CAFI is to organize and deliver effective research, advocacy and assist campaigners to change the attitudes, policies and practices of the government and other decision makers.
“It takes us months to get an appointment to raise a concern or question about the arms frenzy gripping our country. But, we will not be intimidated or dissuaded. National security isn’t just about fortifying our borders or controlling terrorism, it’s about the safety of every man, woman and child anywhere in India“, she explains.
CAFI has filed several RTI inquiries and has engaged 17 parliamentarians from different regions and political parties in their work. Binalakshmi will be raising some pertinent questions in Parliament in the coming weeks. I too want to know how many small arms are manufactured in India? How many civilian victims of land-mines have been compensated? How many civilian casualties were reported in conflict areas? How many cases of gun violence in peace areas like our capital have been solved?
Binalakshmi is also the founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network. She started the network to assist the young widows and aging mothers of Manipuri men killed in the ongoing violence in the state. Be it from the bullet of an insurgent or a soldier, every year over 400 civilian deaths are reported in Manipur.
She may not be famous in India yet, but her work has been appreciated by many international organisations working towards disarmament and regulation of small arms manufacturers. In September 2010, Binalakshmi was awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize at the Noble Peace Center in Oslo, Norway. The prize is awarded to individuals or organisations for their outstanding work for peace, disarmament and human rights. She certainly fits the bill.
Whether raising her voice in the corridors of power or distributing her own salary in an obscure village in Manipur, Binalakshmi Nepram is truly her sister’s keeper.