Possessing a Gun a Status Symbol in India (and often part of Dowry)

A firearm makes a perfect wedding gift.  Does it not? 

If you live in India, a country that bears witness to 10 million marriages a year (in the U.S. there’s only 2.3 million per year), it’s not uncommon for the parents of the bride to give their future son-in-law a gun (usually a handgun) as part of the dowry.

The tradition of gifting firearms for nuptial arrangements has particular relevance in India’s northern rural belt where firearms are seen as both a status symbol and a means of protecting oneself and family from bandits. 

In Madhya Pradesh, the “Heart of India,” families often grow up in fear of dacoity, armed robbery by bandits.  Therefore, when a villager’s daughter is about to get married, the parents want to ensure that the groom has a firearm to defend their daughter. 

But not just any firearm, the biggest gun they can afford.  In India, size matters.  The bigger the gun (however impractical that might seem to U.S. gun owners) the higher one is considered in the social hierarchy.

“We think that sons-in-law can safeguard themselves and our daughters better with the help of guns,” Mangat Ram, 56, a wizened farmer who married off his daughter last year, told the Star Online.com. 

Did he purchase a gun for his son-in-law?

“Of course,” said the villager. “I had to take a loan and run from pillar to post to buy a license but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Procuring a firearm is so important to some that weddings are often delayed until the woman’s father can afford to purchase a gun or until the groom obtains his license. 

As far as the origin of gun gifting, “villagers elaborate that the gun tradition has its provenance in the 80s when people were intimidated by dacoits and thought arms as dowry would serve a double whammy,” according to Star Online.com.

On the whole, India has over 40 million firearms, five million of which are said to be unlicensed and/or illegal.  And as for a per capita breakdown, there are approximately 4 guns per 100 Indians. 

Gun ownership has worked its way into India’s cultural milieu, spanning all classes and castes.

“Rich farmers have to handle enormous amounts of cash every day; so to protect ourselves we have to carry guns,” Vishal Yadav, 33, of Muradabad told Star online.

But as mentioned, it’s not just about personal safety and self-defense; it’s about showing off. 

“Guns have become a sort of status symbol,” he said. “Possessing a gun is a ticket to social eminence.”

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