Here’s a really bizarre setup for victim blaming: in India, the state-owned Indian Ordnance Factory (IOF) has just started marketing what it calls a “handgun for women.” The Nirbheek, as the model is known, is being proposed as a handy self-defense tool for young women who might be at risk of rape. The idea of arming the populace as a defense against rape isn’t new (it’s very popular in the United States), but it has a number of problems, all of which may come to bear in this situation.
This gun is made from a lightweight titanium alloy, making it discreet and easy to handle — all the better to fit in your purse, my dear! In a rather sexist comment, the general manager of the IOF explained that the gun comes in a maroon velvet case “because women love their ornaments.”
Yet, this supposed solution to rape isn’t being marketed at a very accessible price point. The Nirbheek retails for almost $2,000 US, which is well over the average annual income for Indians, according to Al Jazeera. Critics of the gun have pointed out that women most at risk of rape are low-income women, and thus are unlikely to be able to afford a gun that’s worth more than they make in a year. Furthermore, of course, there’s the problem that the majority of rapes in India, as elsewhere, are committed by people known to the victim, not strangers who leap out of bushes who can be easily frightened off with handguns.
The IOF says that “once a target of rape whips out a handgun, the element of surprise is sure to scare the life out of most of the persons who attempt rape.” However, that may not necessarily be the case. Aside from the fact that victims may know their rapists (in as many as 94% of cases in India according to some studies), which would probably make it hard for them to overcome the emotional barrier involved in aiming a gun at a friend or acquaintance, they may not be able to act quickly enough to draw, ready, and fire a gun. The marketing of a gun to women as a rape prevention tool also reiterates the myth that rape must be violent — and women must physically resist rape with every available tool — for it to “count” or be considered a “real rape.”
While brutal gang rapes in India have caught the news recently, these aren’t the only rapes happening in the country. Cynical critics of the Nirbheek point out that it may just be a marketing ploy capitalizing on the atmosphere of fear created by heavy reporting on such violent incidents — as though Indian women can be scared into buying a gun by fearmongering about rape.
Gun ownership is a serious responsibility, and experienced gun owners not just in India but around the world caution that simply buying a gun doesn’t protect people from violence. People need to be comfortable and familiar with the weapons they own, and they need to be prepared to fire them. Furthermore, a gun in the hands of an inexperienced person can often become a weapon turned against that person. How many Nirbheeks will be used to commit rape at gunpoint as a rapist wrestles the weapon from the hands of a victim?
Photo credit: nevil zaveri.