India's "First Gun For Women" Aims to Combat Violence, but Will It Help or Hurt?

The newest proposed solution to violence against women in India? Guns made especially for women. BBC News Magazine reports that the state-run Indian Ordinance Field Gun Factory recently came out with a .32-caliber revolver that is being pitched as India's "first gun for women". The lightweight revolver is sized to fit in small handbags, easy to use, has an "attractive" wooden handle, and comes in a deep maroon jewelry case

The gun’s name, Nirbheek, is a synonym of Nirbhaya, which means "fearless." Nirbhaya is also the name that the Indian press gave to the Dehli rape victim, whose rape and murder incited public outrage and a national discussion about violence against women in India.

Indian police officials have high hopes for the gun, and think that it will be able to protect women from attack. Ram Krishna Chaturvedi, the chief of police for Kanpur and several nearby districts, told BBC News Magazine, "It is definitely a good idea. If you have a licensed weapon, it increases your self-confidence and creates fear in the minds of criminals,"

However, many do not share this view. Firstly, the cost of the gun is $2,000, more than India’s average annual income, making it inaccessible to lower and middle class women. Gun licenses are also hard to obtain, especially for women. Ruchira Gupta, a women's rights activist, told CNN

"Gun licenses are given rarely -- only to those with money and clout, and that means overwhelmingly men. Poor women in India are unlikely to have the means or the access to own a gun."

Furthermore, guns aren’t allowed in most public places in India, such as cinemas, malls, offices, markets, or theaters, and there are metal detectors at many of these locations, meaning that woman would usually have to be unarmed.

Beyond these practical concerns, some women’s group and anti-gun groups think that the Nirbheek sends the wrong messages. Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of the Women Gun Survivors Network told BBC News Magazine,

"It's ridiculous that the state is talking about arming women... The authorities saying, 'Hey woman, come there's a new gun for you which will make you safer,' is an admission of failure on their part."

Other activists doubt that introducing more weapons of violence will change a culture of violence. Public Radio International observed,

“as women’s rights groups have pointed out, guns can't be the solution to the rampant violence against women here. It’s about changing a culture of violence and changing how women are viewed in society. It’s also about sensitizing the police force to gender violence and ensuring they do their job to protect women. It's about ensuring victims get justice in courts. It’s a complex, deep-rooted problem that involves changing many aspects of a society and culture.”

The problem is, what can Indian women do to protect themselves while they are still fighting to change those aspects of society and culture? Buy a gun?