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. The NCR has over 90 thousand gun licenses. According to the Control Arms Foundation, there are actually three times as many fire arms in circulation. India is the second most-armed nation in the world with over 40 million small arms in circulation. We're a gun crazy society. Not surprisingly, 99 percent of our country's 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 Manipur and witnessed a 13-people massacre in 1984, when she was in class three. A few years later, her niece stepped on a bomb in a playground. In 2002, her mother opened a school for underprivileged children but her noble deed was rewarded by a death threat in a 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. It is trying to fill the existing void of informed debates and discussion on conventional disarmament in Indian society.
She stepped onto a strictly men-only arena, pitting herself against people whose patriotism is propped against the latest acquisition of high tech weaponry. Her work has special significance for Indian women, whose voices and opinions were grossly under-represented 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 organise 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 queries 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. 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.