NEW DELHI – Gun owners should roam the streets at night and use their weapons to prevent crimes against women, Delhi’s lieutenant governor has said in the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of a student in the capital, according to a report Saturday.
Tejendra Khanna, who heads the national capital’s police department, on Friday urged gun-owning residents to put their weapons to “social service” and scare away potential molesters, The Indian Express said.
“Gun owners with licenses must roam lonely spots like bus stands each night and if they spot someone harassing a woman, they should use their weapon to stop the crime,” the federal administrator said in a speech.
“They can at least spend an hour or so every day with their friends in public after nightfall,” Khanna said, according to the Indian Express.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party condemned Khanna’s remarks, saying “citizens should not be advised to take their law into their own hands in any situation.”
The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimates India is home to 40 million civilian-owned firearms of an estimated 650 million worldwide. Just 6.3 million Indian arms are registered.
Khanna’s remarks came as President Pranab Mukherjee, in a speech Friday, said the Dec. 16 attack on the student who died of massive internal injuries “has left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil.”
Speaking Friday on the eve of India’s Republic Day celebrations, Mukherjee called the 23-year-old woman’s death a “grave tragedy” that has shattered the country’s complacency.
“The brutal rape and murder of a young woman, a woman who was symbol of all that new India strives to be, has left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil,” he said in a nationwide televised address.
“We lost more than a valuable life — we lost a dream. If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?,” he asked.
The dead student’s father said Thursday she had “successfully cleared” her final exams at the end of her physiotherapy studies, which she saw as her ticket out of the poverty of her parents.
“My daughter has secured a first division in the final examination. I plan to go to her college, meet her teachers and collect her certificates soon,” said the father.
“I will keep her certificates. She studied very hard to obtain good marks. Her certificates are a final gift to my boys.”
The dedicated student had been studying physiotherapy at the Sai Institute of Paramedical and Allied Sciences in the northern city of Dehradun, a popular tourist destination in the Himalayas.
The victim’s parents sold their small piece of land in rural Uttar Pradesh in order to fund their daughter’s education, often limiting their own meals to little more than bread with salt.
“I gave her all the freedom after she had promised me that she will never let me down. It was difficult to finance her education and convince my wife to let her study away from home,” said her father, a baggage handler at the New Delhi airport.
On Wednesday, a panel set up after the attack recommended new, tougher penalties for sexual crimes but stopped short of calling for the death sentence.Police say rape cases in New Delhi jumped 23.4 percent to 706 in 2012 from a year earlier, highlighting rampant crime against women in the sprawling metropolis of 16 million people.
The murder of the 23-year-old student ignited street protests and calls for harsher punishments for rapists.
Five men are on trial for the rape and killing. A sixth has said he is under 18 and that his case should be heard in juvenile court.
New Delhi is known as the most unsafe major Indian city for women with more than twice as many rape cases registered in 2011 than in the commercial hub of Mumbai.
In related news, a far-right political party last week, began distributing thousands of knives to women in the western state of Maharashtra to help them protect themselves after a fatal gang-rape last month alarmed the country.
Shiv Sena, a party with a reputation for intimidation and unrest, began handing out the weapons to women at a function in Mumbai late Wednesday on the birthday of Bal Thackeray, the group’s late founder, who died last November.
“The way you cut vegetables, cut the hand of the person who touches you the same way,” local party official Ajay Chowdhary told supporters, saying women should keep the 7-cm blades in their purses.
The party intends to distribute 21,000 of them across Maharashtra, their main base, of which Mumbai is the capital.