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Guns can’t ensure safety of women in India

That's because a shortcut like this will not cure the problems that are behind these crimes

The men at the state-owned ordnance factory who have recently launched a gun manufactured specifically for Indian women just don’t get the problem they are trying to fix.

They think the problem of sexual violence against women is simple to solve: arm a woman with a gun and you solve the rape crisis engulfing India or at least, as the marketing slogan goes, make a “valuable contribution to women’s safety”.

Indians have been debating this “contribution”. At 500 grams, the .32 revolver is light and small enough to fit into a woman’s handbag. Its handle is made of dark wood and it comes in a bejewelled maroon case to make it look “feminine”.

Engraved on the barrel is the name Nirbheek, Hindi for fearless and a play on Nirbhaya, the name given to the 23-year-old woman who died after being gang raped in December 2012, a tragedy that plunged the country into angst and sparked international outrage.

There are so many problems with this “solution” to sexual violence against Indian women that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the obvious objections.

First, the price. At almost $2,000 (Dh7,345), the gun is unaffordable for all but a few of India’s 614 million women. Even if the majority had that kind of money, they would choose to spend it on school fees, buying a computer for their child or doing some home repairs.

Second, India is not America. There is no gun culture that celebrates the gun as a citizen’s fundamental right to self-protection. Indians have not grown up watching Westerns.

Thirdly, even if a gun could be used effectively, given that a rape happens every 22 minutes in India, do we really want a homicide happening too, raising the levels of violence?

But the more substantial argument against the gun is that shortcuts will not work. India’s culture of misogyny, male domination and disrespect for women has been thousands of years in the making. Destroying that culture will take decades of hard and persistent work.

Some Indians seem to have thought, with a touch of naivety, that merely lifting the veil of silence over rape would bring the incidence of rape down. The fact that sexual violence is being noisily and frequently discussed is a good development. The taboo has been shattered.

But the rape figures continue to rise, as they will, because more women are now prepared to report rape and because the underlying culture that gives rise to male attitudes will take a long time to change.

Every single Indian will have to start working on themselves, altering behaviour that is deeply rooted. They have to stop celebrating the birth of a boy while looking glum at the birth of a girl. They should stop giving boys special treatment throughout their childhood. They should stop favouring boys when it comes to education. They should stop making boys feel they are exceptional and entitled.

They also have to stop the practice of the dowry. Indians keep moaning about the dowry but keep giving it. If one single custom damages a woman’s status more than any other, it is the fact that, on her own, she is not of value when she gets married; she must go to her husband laden with money and goods to be accepted.

The moment the practice of dowry giving ends, so will female foeticide. Parents abort girls only because they dread the financial burden that comes with marrying them off later.

It’s time Indians started questioning language too. Silly euphemisms such as “outraging the modesty of a woman” or “eve-teasing” have to be replaced by “sexual assault”.

It is also time to question the beliefs that give rise to male notions of superiority and that means questioning religious texts and mythologies wherever women are portrayed as inferior, no matter how ancient or venerated they may be.

Every time a man makes a sexist comment, his daughter, wife and sister have to challenge him. Institutions that allow or condone sexual violence need to be reformed. Bollywood, television and advertising agencies have the power to influence millions of minds and need to examine how they portray women and see if they can also do something to alter male thinking.

It’s going to be hard work. Luckily, some precedents exist.

Indians accepted a woman, Indira Gandhi, as prime minister. They accept Sonia Gandhi as president of the Congress Party. Regional women leaders such as Mayawati, Jayalalitha, and Mamata Banerjee have been around for years. The country’s last president was a woman. Indian conglomerates are headed by women.

But these are exceptions. In the war that India has to wage against sexual inequality, the goal is to turn these exceptions into the rule.

Oh, and another reason for rejecting the gun is because it is an admission of defeat before the war to change the average Indian man has even begun.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi

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