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A tea vendor who lost his daughter to such festivities appeals to the Court to ban them and fix liability for such incidents

~By Lilly Paul

The WhatsApp status of Shyam Sunder Kaushal is poignant: “I miss you a lot my child.” For this tea vendor, his daughter was his life. But on April 16 last year, Anjali was hit on the head by something as she was standing on the balcony of her house along with her two younger sisters, watching the marriage procession of a neighbour. Family members initially assumed it was a firecracker but it later turned out to be a deadly bullet. When she was taken to hospital, doctors declared her brain-dead. Anjali died two days later. A tragic and needless death.

Kaushal has since then been fighting for justice and wants a ban on celebratory firing. He told India Legal: “We have complete faith in the judiciary, but not the police. We are not sure when justice will be served. The wait has further increased as the next date for hearing regarding compensation is in February.”

A case regarding the shooting was registered with the South Rohini police station. But police investigation into the matter has been suspect, he alleged. Surprisingly, an FIR was registered by the police even before Kaushal made a complaint. He alleged that police officials reached the hospital when his daughter was admitted and made him sign two blank papers.

SUSPECT PROBE

According to him, the police had been pressurising him to say that he saw a man called Vikrant firing, and the bullet eventually hit his daughter and therefore to name him as the accused. As Kaushal was not present at the time of the incident and doubted the credibility of the investigation, he moved the Delhi High Court to get the case transferred to the crime branch.

Due to the absence of any evidence, Vikrant was allowed by the Court to go free. “Witnesses produced before the court are people from the same household and everyone denied seeing this man firing. There are no other witnesses,” Kaushal said.

The practice of celebratory firing during wedding celebrations has claimed numerous lives. Photo: girishlone.com
The practice of celebratory firing during wedding celebrations has claimed numerous lives. Photo: girishlone.com

He said that his younger daughter saw several rounds of bullets being fired during the procession and this had also been recorded in the video footage. However, he alleged that the footage was not made available. Moreover, Anjali’s postmortem report showed a bullet inside her head but that too was not produced before the court. “The bullet and the video footage were evidence but the police did not make enquiries about them,” he said.

Needless deaths

Other fatalities due to celebratory firing

  • May 2017: A 22-year-old boy died in Morena district of MP when a bullet was fired during his brother’s engagement ceremony.
  • December 2016: Anjali, a 20-year-old girl, was watching a marriage procession in Rampara village in Botad district of Gujarat from her balcony when she was hit in the head by a bullet. She died after two days.
  • March 2016: Two incidents of celebratory firing took place on the same day in UP. In the first incident, a man died after being hit by a bullet fired during the engagement ceremony of a BSP leader in Meerut. In the other incident in Baghpat, a 16-year-old was hit by a bullet during a marriage celebration.
  • February 2016: An eight-year-old boy was killed in Kairana town of Shamli district in UP when SP workers were celebrating victory in local body polls. The bullet hit the victim who was passing by in a rickshaw.

FIX LIABILITY

After other incidents of celebratory firing, Kaushal filed a petition in the Delhi High Court asking for a ban on celebratory firing. The petition also seeks to fix liability for the incident on the groom and his father. “It is necessary to fix liability in such matters. Whenever a mishap takes place in an organisation or a company, the owner is held responsible. In the same manner, the hosts of a marriage should be held responsible for celebratory firing,” Kaushal’s counsel, Akash Vajpai, said. He advocates that celebratory firing be made a non-bailable offence.

Hearing the petition of Kaushal and an NGO, the bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar directed the centre to come up with a policy to curb celebratory firing within three months. Bent on stopping this menace, Kaushal plans to file a contempt case if the government fails to frame the policy. “Positive guidelines from the government are sure to stop this nuisance of celebratory firing to a large extent,” Vajpai said.

Celebratory firing has claimed many lives not just in Delhi but in many states of North India. The Allahabad High Court had in 2012 ruled against this practice. A division bench of the High Court passed an order restraining the use of licensed guns for firing during celebrations. The order said that an arms licence issued for personal safety cannot be used during wedding processions, birthdays, victory processions or any similar gathering.

Even the Arms Act, 1959 has not been enough of a deterrent in this regard. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of stringent punishment and the police’s lack of seriousness in taking action in such cases.

“The police does not bother to file an FIR or take action until and unless a death has taken place, even if a case is registered under Section 336 which relates to ‘endangering life or safety of others’ which is a bailable offence and where the maximum imprisonment is six months,” said Vajpai. But there is no provision to punish anyone indulging in celebratory offence, he added. Even under the Arms Act, a gun licence can be cancelled but there is no punishment listed for such matters.

Kaushal has been campaigning on social media and organising candlelight marches for his daughter. “Even after this fateful incident, celebratory firing has not stopped. We do not want anyone to go through the pain we are enduring,” he says stoically.

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