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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Indian Arms Act 1877: How the British Disarmed the Indians

Gun Control and Indian Arms Act 1877 During the Days of the Raj



The arms act of 1877 was the first gun control law in India. On the face it looked reasonable, but in practice getting an arms license was a tedious process for an Indian. This law made it mandatory for any Indian wishing to own a gun to obtain a license for it. An unlicensed gun was punishable with a fine and imprisonment up to 3 years. Thus in one blow the British restricted the ownership of guns during the days of the Raj.

The British Raj popularly referred to as just ‘the Raj’ is generally accepted as the period from 1858 to 1947. This was the period when India came directly under the rule of the crown and Queen Victoria by a proclamation in 1858 took over as Empress of Hindustan. The rule by the East India Company lapsed after this proclamation. This was a direct consequence of the mutiny of 1857-58 when Indian sepoys and some rulers had revolted against East India Company rule.

The Mutiny  was crushed and the British now turned their attention to governing this vast nation of 250 million people. Before 1857 there was no gun control law in India. Any Indian could own any weapon of any caliber. After the mutiny things changed as the British decided that the time had come to restrict Indians from owning weapons and hence the first seeds of arms control were sowed.

The Viceroy appointed a committee which concluded that local Indians should have restricted access to arms and weapons. It however made an exception in the case of Anglo Indians and British rulers who were free to own weapons. The gun license was introduced to restrict Indians from owning weapons.

In 1877 the Indian arms act was promulgated and it remained in force till  1959.  The arms act was made applicable to all areas under direct British rule but Indian states which were independent, though they accepted British sovereignty did not come under the purview of this act. These states like Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad were however advised to restrict issue of guns to local Indians and they duly complied.

 The arms act of 1877 was the first gun control law in India. On the face it looked reasonable, but in practice getting an arms license was a tedious process for an Indian. This law made it mandatory for any Indian wishing to own a gun to obtain a license for it. An unlicensed gun was punishable with a fine and imprisonment up to 3 years. Thus in one blow the British restricted the ownership of guns during the days of the Raj.

 The act of 1877 brought in a system where the issue of discretion was introduced and an application for a gun license could be rejected by the government for any reason. All Indians wishing to own guns were to follow the following steps
a)    Apply to the local District magistrate(DM) for a license
b)    The reason as to why a license was applied and a gun needed was also to be mentioned
c)     It was also required to mention the names of 2 local Indians who could vouchsafe for the character of the applicant.

The DM was required to forward this application to the District Superintendent of Police (SP) who would set in motion a police verification of the Individual.  The SP was required to forward the report to the DM within 30 days. The DM would then use his discretion to either approve or disapprove an arms license. Generally arms licenses were issued only to rich Indians and those who supported the Raj. Anglo Indians and British men in India were also required theoretically to follow this procedure, but the arms licenses to them were issued immediately.

The Indian arms act of 1877 was successful in controlling proliferation of guns in India and hardly .5% of Indians were issued gun licenses. In a way unbridled owning of guns as protected by the 2nd amendment in the USA never happened. The British were thus successful in keeping the local Indian population unarmed.