Gang wars brazenly out in the open as bosses rule from jails

“ The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” —Wayne LaPierre Gun culture, gun-running, gun violence — none ...

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

—Wayne LaPierre

Gun culture, gun-running, gun violence — none of these are going away. Not in America and not here in India either. This weekend alone, at least nine people have been killed and two dozen others wounded after shootings in three cities in the United States. It is a deeply entrenched epidemic that is now threatening to become as rampant and widespread as it is in the US.

The urge to dominate, threaten, protect, overpower, or extort binds people, around the world, who wield guns. Gun violence also has a complicated relationship with “gangsta rap” that originated in the US in the 1980s as a way for artists to express their anger at white police officers. For the past few years, Punjabi singers have drawn heavily from this genre to comment on the ills of the world and celebrate guns as a symbol of macho strength.

The result — violent deaths like that of Punjabi rapper, Sidhu Moose Wala. Several states in India glorify guns but in the past few days, Punjab is under greater scrutiny as news of gang wars emanate from the state.

As per publicly available information, there are over four lakh active gun licence holders in Punjab, where one is allowed to own three firearms on a single licence.

Civilians have more weapons than there are police officials in the state. The number of estimated firearms owned by Punjab residents is around 11 lakh while there are 80,000 cops in the state police force.

Muktsar, Sangrur, Hoshiyarpur, Firozpur, Tarn Taran, and Amritsar districts own maximum arms licences.

The affinity for guns has fuelled an illegal arms supply trade which traverses states.

Country-made pistols or “desi katta” sell in the range of Rs 2,500 to Rs 15,000. Automatic country-made pistols sell between Rs 25,000 and Rs 60,000; while 0.30 bore and 9 mm pistols are priced between Rs 50,000 and 1.50 lakh.

Illegal arms in Punjab are mainly smuggled from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Punjab Police in 2021 had busted as many as three Madhya Pradesh-based illegal weapon manufacturing and supply modules.

The UP Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested one arms supplier from Haridwar in 2020. He was supplying illegal weapons to the Khalistan Liberation Force.

Illegal weapons are manufactured in the jungles of the Malwa-Nimar region of Madhya Pradesh, Shamli and Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh besides Munger in Bihar. But, guns made in Uttar Pradesh are considered inferior compared to Madhya Pradesh.

Giving a more sinister and dangerous dimension, arms smuggling is taking place from Pakistan using drones. They find their way into markets in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The number of seizures have jumped over 340 per cent over the last year. The BSF had recovered 3,322 weapons as compared to 750 in 2020. Punjab police had also seized 1,349 illegal weapons between 2018 to 2020. These weapons were sold to the gangsters.

Punjab gun houses have also been caught selling legally purchased ammunition to criminals as no record of the buyers and their gun licences were found in the fake invoices.

Police officials say the illegal arms are supplied in smaller quantities and move from hand to hand. Those arrested are kind of retailers and suppliers.

Punjab singer Sidhu Moose Wala, who was gunned down recently, had released a song on his YouTube channel, comparing himself to actor Sanjay Dutt, who was jailed under the Arms Act back in 1993.

Sidhu Moose Wala. Instagram

Now, actor Salman Khan and his father are being threatened. A Times of India report quoted a police officer connected to the case as saying, “Salim Khan follows a morning routine where he goes for a walk on the promenade accompanied by his security personnel. There's a location where he typically takes a break. A chit had been left behind on a bench.”

Salim's security staff found the chit and gave it to him. “Moosa Wale jaisa kar dunga (Will make you like Moose Wala),” the chit read as per the report. Police are also checking the CCTV footage in the Bandstand area.

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Moose Wala’s murder has brought the simmering gang war rivalry out in the open. While Lawrence Bishnoi and his aide Goldy Brar are on one side; the Bawana gang owing allegiance to Sidhu Moose Wala has threatened to strike back.

Moose Wala was reportedly killed because of his alleged links to the murder of Youth Akali Dal leader Vicky Middukhera, who was close to Bishnoi. He was killed last August allegedly by gangsters belonging to the Davinder Bambiha group.

Despite Davinder’s death in an encounter in 2016, the Bambiha gang is still thriving and remains the most notorious gang in Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, along with the Bishnoi gang.

Many other gangsters are linked to these two big gangs. Reports say they share information, targets and booty in equal measure. As Punjabi songs, films and sports generate the big bucks, many associated in this area become targets for extortion and death threats.

The Mann government has set up an anti-gangster unit to tackle the menace, but with the Moose Wala hit and open gang rivalry, it is now scurrying for cover.

Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann. ANI

The AAP is finding it difficult to explain the withdrawal of security cover and the publicising of the names. AAP spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang said gangsters flourished in Punjab in the past decade because of political patronage.

AAP leaders said the traditional political class was turning against the party as the Mann government started reclaiming encroached land and curtailing illegal sand mining.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Punjab has reported 2,073 cases relating to arms between 2016-2020. This averages out to be about 400 cases per year.

But Punjab is not alone. The NCR district recorded, on average, 1,204 cases every year in this period in Ghaziabad in UP. In the last five years, the district has reported 6,204 cases.

In the last five years, on an average, for every 1 lakh population, Punjab reported 1.4 arms-related cases in a year, which is almost 3-4 times lower than the national average of 4.8.

Madhya Pradesh has the highest rate of arms-related cases. For every 1 lakh people, the state records at least 14 cases a year, which is more than once every month. Indore, one of its prominent cities, reports the second-highest arms-related cases in the country. In 2020 alone, Indore recorded 1,406 arms and related cases, which for a population of 32 lakh stands out at 65 cases a year and more than five cases a month.

In Uttar Pradesh, this rate is 13 per lakh, followed by nine in Delhi and eight in Uttarakhand and Rajasthan each.

Gun violence is gaining ground in Haryana. The arms-related cases were 6.8 per lakh in 2016, which shot up to eight per lakh in 2020. In Punjab, this has come down from 1.6 to 1.4 in the same period.

So, if rappers, singers, and the music industry is partly involved in glamourising gun culture, can politicians be far behind?

Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh, during his customary address to the Sikh community from the Akal Takht's podium to mark the 38th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, said every Sikh should learn the use of modern weapons.

“We should focus on setting up shooting ranges to get training in weapons. The others are getting training in weapons illegally,” said the Jathedar, amidst pro-Khalistan slogans.

Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the US. Guns kill more than 38,000 people and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year.

Back home, amid gang rivalry, gun running, extortion and hits; it is very evident the business of weapon trading isn’t going to fly away out of the window.

The author is CEO of nnis. Views expressed are personal.

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