Sunday, February 18, 2007

In Chambal's shadow, guns are currency of power

Bhind (Madhya Pradesh), Feb 18 (IANS) The Bhind region is home to the highest number of malnourished children and some of the most underweight and anaemic women in the country. Poverty might abound but when it comes to putting forth stacks of green notes in exchange for a gun, there's no thinking twice for the men.

"It's the question of our pride," says Pehalwan Singh of Hamirpura village, Bhind.From the first look of it, Bhind appears to be like any other Indian small town, messy and chaotic. But unlike most other towns, you see men carrying guns on their shoulders while cycling around and shops scattered all over the place selling pistols of all makes."My village has around 160 families and at least 90 possess a gun," says Singh. And what about the licence? "We have licence. At times a family might have a licence for one gun but may possess more than one," he smiles.Situated in the Chambal region in the north west of Madhya Pradesh, Bhind district is infamous for being a haven for bandits and robbers that was once home to the legendary bandit queen Phoolan Devi and other dreaded dacoits.As we make our way through the yawning chasms and gaping 'beehads' (ravines) which provide a good hiding place for the dacoits, it is not difficult to imagine their looming presence somewhere in the horizon."Oh yes, the dacoits are still there so we need guns for self-defence but they generally don't trouble the locals," says Sanjay Singh Badhoria, a villager. Not a very comfortable thought for a visitor though!Priced anywhere between Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 45,000, what was amazing is that while they don't hesitate to shell this amount of money for buying a gun, poverty and inadequate medical aid is killing a number of people, especially mothers, in this area."If a person's gun gets stolen, he loses all respect in society.

They say that a man who cannot protect his gun is good for nothing," says Singh in the backdrop of Bhind's rising contribution to the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of Madhya Pradesh, which in turn contributes to 10 percent of the MMR in the country.As two men, with guns strapped to their backs, carry a wounded person in the district hospital of Bhind in perfect ease and not attracting any raised eyebrows except the visitor's, it's quite apparent what they mean when they say that they "carry their pride on their shoulders".According to the National Family Health Survey, Madhya Pradesh contributes 7,000 maternal mortality cases every year among the 70,000 of the country. The sex ratio of this area is 829 females to every 1,000 males.

--By Azera Rahman

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