Militancy was uprooted in Punjab some time ago, but the sound of gunfire still ripples through the state. The new terrorism unleashed by the children of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen means that shots fired in the air are the familiar punctuation to marriages and drunken brawls. The killing of Jessica Lall, feel the police, was hardly an isolated incident.
Manoj Kumar, nephew of Mani Ram Godara, Haryana home minister, accused in the 1998 murder of Manjit Singh, is facing trial under Section 302. A month after Manjits murder, Aman Beniwal, nephew of Haryana mla Vidya Beniwal, asked his gunmen to fire at security guards at Picadilly Cinema in Chandigarh (owned, ironically, by Manu Sharmas father). In March 1996, Kamal Deep Arora alias Bobby, son of the then Punjab minister Bhagwan Das Arora kidnapped a shopkeeper accompanied by his gunmen. The two security men were arrested; Bobbys fate is unknown.
A Punjab police sub-inspector was wounded by Gurkirat Singh, grandson of former CM Beant Singh in August 1993. Gurkirat followed this up by abducting French tourist Katia Darnand in September 1994. In November 1997, Neeraj and Pawan, nephews of former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, allegedly shot dead a property dealer Devinder Singh.
The real villain of the piece are the guns and revolvers they use. Says Ved Marwah, former Delhi police commissioner, "A gun is a status symbol, making these boys trigger-happy. The rich feel they can get away with anything."
Amod Kanth, joint commissioner of police (southern range) in Delhi, says that obtaining an official gun licence is not easy. A citizen has to first apply to the dcp (licensing), who checks out the applicants background, threat perception and ability to handle the weapon. Reports at three police levels are received. Then the individual is interviewed by the dcp (licensing). Its a good system on paper. In reality, the authorities are often under political pressure to issue licenses to those who are not qualified to carry these arms.
Delhis 54,055 firearm holders include former police officers, politicians, businessmen and security agency staff. So far this year, 2,588 licence applications have been received, 702 licences granted. Though Manu Sharma is licensed to carry a .32 pistol, the weapon used to shoot Jessica Lall was a .22 bore pistol. The police are trying to ascertain how Sharma got the weapon. An added worry for the police is the changing profile of gun buyers. Says a Delhi arms dealer, "Now we get the nouveau riche, or people who are making an extra buck."
Senior superintendent of police, Chandigarh, N.S. Randhawa, feels there should be an outright ban on issuing firearm licences. "We are a Gandhian nation. These guns are rarely used for self-defence, always in aggression."