A government scheme offering fast-tracked gun permits to men who agree to undergo a vasectomy is being criticised by the men who say officials are reneging on the deal.
'Guns for vasectomy' deal turns sour
KOLKATA // A government scheme offering fast-tracked gun permits to men who agree to undergo a vasectomy is being criticised by the men who say officials are reneging on the deal. One year after it started, men in one of India's most violent regions who underwent the procedure in order to arm themselves for protection are still waiting for their permits. Vasectomy camps have been held across the country for several years as part of a solution to reduce India's population, but they often fail to meet their targets because most men refuse to be sterilised, believing that the process strips them of their "manliness". But with the arrival of the "guns for vasectomy" scheme in Madhya Pradesh's Shivpuri district, part of the Chambal Valley, there has been a surge in demand from men eager to get a gun to defend their families from regular attacks on villages by roving gangs of bandits. Several men have complained that the promised gun permits have not been issued. "I underwent the operation only for the gun licence," Lalit Gupta told the Hindustan Times. "The announcement appears to have been a trick." Mr Gupta said he wanted the permit because he often has to travel to "dangerous places". A family planning department official in Shivpuri, who did not want to be named, said 90 per cent of the Shivpuri men who had a vasectomy over the past year did so simply to have their gun permit application move faster and many were criticising health officials, saying they had backed out of the deal. Manish Shrivastava, the chief administrator of Shivpuri district, said delays were caused by police verifications, which are mandatory for all applicants. But he promised the permits would be issued to those who qualify. "I am aware of the grievances and I promise that within a few weeks I shall be able to make all of them happy," he said last weekend. Receiving a firearms licence can take a long time. Tens of thousands of applications have been pending for several years. It is not unknown for an application to take 10 years. The vasectomy is no guarantee of getting a permit, let alone a gun. To be eligible, an applicant has to prove that he faces a grievous threat to his life and does not have a criminal record. Despite the criticism officials said the scheme has been a success. Mr Shrivastava said in previous years there were never more than eight men who underwent vasectomies, but in the past year 150 had the operation after the family planning department made the offer, which involves having a gun permit application fast-tracked. "In a survey we had found that most men did not want to undergo vasectomy because they did not want to lose their manliness. So, we decided to match it with a bigger symbol of manliness - a gun licence ? and it has worked wonders." "There is a fetish for arms and arms permits in this area and at the same time the male vasectomy figures are dismally low. I have simply clubbed these two things together and got a very good response," he said. A survey by the Madhya Pradesh family planning department done two years ago found that many villagers believed a vasectomy would make them impotent and so they avoided the operation. Nothing would persuade the men to undergo the procedure, not even medical reports, until the fast-tracking offer. The success of the scheme in Madhya Pradesh can also be attributed to the local culture in which a gun is seen as a status symbol. It is common to see a villager in worn-out sandals and riding an old bicycle proudly showing off a gun slung over his shoulder or a revolver hung from his waist. "Many peasants are even selling off their last piece of land to try to buy guns because of necessity and also to flaunt the prized status symbol. Our scheme has struck such an appeal that even a good number of Muslims - who are traditionally against sterilisation - have come forward to undergo vasectomy after the new scheme was announced," Mr Shrivastava said. Vasectomy camps have been viewed with suspicion in India. In the mid-1970s under the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, her son, Sanjay, launched a programme of forced sterilisation aimed at lowering the birth rate. Officials keen to meet his targets brought men out of buses and trains and sterilised them forcibly. Mr Shrivastava also sees an economic connection in having a gun permit in the crime-infested region. "If one has a gun permit, he can easily get a job of a private security guard, which can help him get a better wage in his daily life. Many want a gun licence just to boost their job prospects." The latest scheme, however, has been assailed by critics as encouraging a gun culture in a region where firearm violence is already high. "Where there are guns, even minor feuds often escalate into events that claim lives," said S S Shukla, a former senior police officer. "As a result, the crime graph in the Chambal division is set to go up. The government should consider other interesting incentives to meet their family planning targets." "To get this certificate from police, here you have to spend thousands of rupees in bribes in most cases, even if you are the most deserving candidate for a gun licence," said one man in Shivpuri immediately after having undergone the vasectomy. "I am happy that I shall get the permit soon. My first application for a licence did not meet with success, even in eight years."