Burden of history sits heavy on Madhya Pradesh’s gun-making community
For generations, the people of Sikligar community have been making guns, a craft they first picked up to arm the military wing of Guru Govind Singh in the 17th century. After Independence, arms-making was declared illegal and so was their profession.
The burden of history sits like a large boulder on this village, unmovable and unbreakable, weighing down the Sikligar community under an unenviable, dark legacy.
For generations, the people of this village have been making guns, a craft they first picked up to arm the military wing of Guru Govind Singh in the 17th century. After Independence, arms-making was declared illegal and so was their profession.
Today, they are petty criminals in the eyes of the law and an uncaring society.
This is the burden of the Sikligars, a small community of around 15,000 spread over four districts of western Madhya Pradesh.
They know no other profession. When they have tried to learn, society has always looked at them with suspicion.
18-year-old Sukhbir Singh (name changed) of Umerthi in neighbouring Barwani district is one of the only two students from their community to have ever attended college.
But he is not sure if he would be able to continue and get his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“I fear losing my friends. Most of them never talk to me. Some say, ‘isse mat baat karo, ye bandook banata hai’ (don't talk to him, he makes guns),” Sukhbir said.
Dilshan, 15, of Signoor never reached college.
“I left studies because the teachers in primary school were apathetic towards us,” Dilshan regretted.
Signoor is just 35km from district headquarter Khargone and less than 100km from the state’s economic hub Indore.
But the community – mainly concentrated in Khandwa, Khargone, Dhar and Barwani districts -- is still far away from the state’s collective consciousness.
Compounding the difficulties posed by an unsupportive government system is the social stigma that still shrouds the Sikligars.
“The teachers discourage students by saying, ‘what will you do after studying? Just make guns?’ How can a kid study in such an environment?" questioned Dhan Singh, a resident of Signoor.
Most of the Sikligars are labourers, live a life of penury and are easy prey to gun-runners and even militant groups.
The Sikligars elders accept that some people are still engaged in gun-making business but said that a majority have left this occupation and taken up other professions.
“We are born as skilled arms-makers and are making arms since ages. Where is the option for us? (The) government hardly cares for us. Most of our people are helpless because of utter poverty and we need money… even police take advantage of this,” said Kartar, another resident of Signoor.
Police said that earlier most of the guns made by the community were .315 bore or .12 bore but now many of them have mastered the art of making high-precision 7.65 mm pistols.
Police are also following up information that some of Sikligars have even started making automatic weapons.
According to sources in the community, a Sikligar can earn anything between Rs. 3,000 to Rs 40,000 for an investment of Rs 1,500 to Rs 4,000.
All he has to do is to buy an iron rib, gunpowder and umbrella spring (used for making magazine) and fire a kiln. Working with bare hands and using a hammer and chisel, one weapon is ready in about four days. Some also use lathe machines to make more sophisticated weapons, the sources said.
However, many Sikligars allege that just because some of them are still engaged in the profession police target the entire community in specific cases.
“When any ‘police muhim’ (campaign) starts the soft targets are the Sikligars. Those who are engaged in arms-making flee but the innocent are trapped and booked,” said a senior citizen of Kajalpura village, about 15 km from Khargone.
Khargone SP Amit Singh denied any police bias and said that “Sikligars don’t want to quit this work because of easy money. They are poor but this doesn’t mean that they are clean”
But police also said that Sikligars are not involved in any other crime other than arms-making.
A senior police officer said on condition of anonymity that at times the Sikligars are “booked in fake cases to complete targets”.
He was also quick to point out that “it is more of a social problem” and suggested government schemes to bring them to the mainstream.
However, several rehabilitation plans have either fizzled away or remained on paper.
A Sikligar youth, who identified himself only as Dilbeer, put the community’s dilemma in perspective.
“When we have nothing to do we move towards arms-making. We cannot die of hunger. We all want to be settled but it is because of the government that we still carry the tag of criminal community," he added.
Arguably, the past has never been so cruel on the present for anyone else like the Sikligars.
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