Mughal era gunsmiths now struggling businessmen

  • Deep Mukherjee, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 22, 2016 20:56 IST
Gunsmith Hafiz Fariduddin posing with an antique 12 bore gun made in England by acclaimed gunsmith Charles Lancaster. The gun is only one-of-its-kind in India, says Fariduddin. (Prabhakar Sharma/HT Photo)

Jaipur: Once celebrated Mughal era gunsmiths to present-day struggling gun dealers, this Rajasthan family can tell you in single breath how warfare and guns have evolved over the years.

But, now they regret how they are losing their gun-making skills in an effort to maintain themselves as gun dealers, thanks to the government restrictions on private gun manufacturing since 1961.

The ministry of home affairs is in the process of drafting the Arms Act Amendment Bill, which will allow open arms manufacturing to private firms again with some restrictions. So far, the manufacturing is limited to government ordnance factories and 92 licensed firms. The family has set their eyes on the amendment for achche din.

Royal assignments

Meet 65-year-old Hafiz Fariduddin, who can talk hours on how his ancestors got special assignments from wealthy Englishmen and royal families and how they lent special effects to rifles and revolvers to differentiate them from the common gun users. Their shop Bharat Armoury on the Motidoongri Road had been a favourite destination for gun lovers and buyers. But, now they contend with selling permitted guns and repairing the antique ones.

Earlier, Westley Richards 12 bore guns, Holland and Holland 12 bore guns, Webley revolver, Walther pistols, James Purdey 12 bore guns and Winchester Rifles did good business. However, now they are dealing in the ordnance factory stuff. The shop also has a licence to sale Nirbheek, the revolver which was launched exclusively for women after the Nirbhaya incident. But, it is yet to find customers in Jaipur, says Fariduddin.

Mughal era links

Fariduddin’s eyes light up when he talks about his forefathers’ gunsmithing skills. “Our ancestors were part of a Mughal contingent that visited Rajasthan around 500 years ago. Since then our family had been engaged in the profession of making and repairing all types of firearms. My grandfather Bashiruddin was the head of the Royal Armoury in Rajasthan. Most of the weapons that one gets to look at the armoury of the City Palace and Jaigarh Fort, are made by our family,” he says.

His brother Mohammed Gayasuddin says till fifty years ago Bharat Armoury had a thriving business. The certificates from the royalty across India are now the only remnants of those days.

“We barely have any customers nowadays since there are only a handful of people who are interested in purchasing guns. Another factor which has affected our business is the complex formalities involved in getting a licence from the commissionerate. It often takes years to get a licence approved or renewed,” says Gayasuddin. He says the business has come down gradually. The monthly sales fetched them up Rs30000 before 2005. But, now the amount is merely Rs8000, he regrets, adding, “even a roadside vendor earns more than us. The only reason that we are still in this business is because this is our ancestral profession.” He partly relates the dip in the business to two additional district magistrates in Sriganganagar who were found guilty of issuing over 874 arms licences in 2005 -- most of them being illegal. “Later, the rules were made stricter and now it is almost impossible to get a gun licence if you are a common man.” However, he alleges many people from Jaipur are obtaining licences from dealers in Nagaland for illegal arms.

Young flight

However, Fariduddin says his craftsmen have the skill to repair old and antique guns, which cannot be repaired elsewhere. An antique 12 bore rifle made by legendary British gunsmith Charles Lancaster is one of them.

“The gun has a single trigger mechanism and there are not many people in the world that could repair such antique weapons. It is time consuming and it needs extreme caution,” Fariduddin says. The young generation Mohammed Izhar ( 22 ) and Mohammed Ayaz (20) are now diversifying into shooting sports besides carefully retaining the family skills.

Izhar has bagged silver and bronze medals at two shooting championships last year. He says that he wants to become a national-level shooter. “I will be taking part in the state championships which is scheduled in August this year.” Younger brother Ayaz too shares similar ambitions. They are committed to taking the family legacy further but didn’t sound too optimistic about the business.

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