India: Mapping the contours of armed violence

Armed violence - the intentional, threatened or actual use of arms to inflict death or injury - can take many forms and appears in different contexts such as conflict, large scale crime, interpersonal and gender-based violence. Very often, it both contributes to and is sustained by transnational organized crime, such as drugs and arms trafficking.

Successful efforts to deal with the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and armed violence depend significantly on the availability of accurate information related to the global flow of these weapons and on reliable analyses of the causes and consequences of their proliferation. However, there are often large gaps in the production and analysis of sufficient data, impeding evidence-based violence prevention and reduction programs.

To address this issue, the Small Arms Survey was established in 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland to promote in-depth research on small arms and armed violence. UNODC and the Small Arms Survey have collaborated on studies on armed violence and participated in efforts such as the WHO Violence Prevention Alliance and the OECD armed violence programming monitoring expert group.

In 2010, the Small Arms Survey started the India Armed Violence Assessment (IAVA) to develop comprehensive evidence on the incidence of violence and fatalities in the country. The project was officially launched on 20th September 2011 in New Delhi. UNODC and the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) for India and Bhutan co-hosted the event.

The first two issue briefs of the IAVA project was released during the launch, where the respective authors presented the highlights of the reports.  The first brief focussed on 'India's States of Armed Violence: Assessing the Human Cost and Political Priorities', while the second looked at 'Mapping Murder: The Geography of Indian Firearms Fatalities'.

UNODC interviewed Keith Krause, Programme Director - Small Arms Survey, who was present at the launch, to know more about the IAVA and its relevance for India.

1) Please give us a background about the Small Arms Survey and its work on armed violence.

The Small Arms Survey is a research organization which conducts policy relevant research and tries to feed its information analysis to create better policies, more effective programs, and evidence based programming. We work at the interface of research and policy, with governments, NGOs, and international organizations and we try to fill the evidence gaps, which in the area of small arms, light weapons and armed violence is quite large.

We started 10 years ago, initially focusing more or less on the guns - where are they, who has them, how are they  used, and then we broadened our focus to understand what is the impact of weapons proliferation and misuse on human rights, on development issues, on conflicts, on ordinary criminal activity, and now we organize our work in four main areas. One, we still focus on weapons and markets, that is the legal and illegal possession of guns... who in a country, in a region, in a district has weapons, under what circumstances, how do they get there, is it legal sales, is it illicit trafficking, is it leakage from government stocks... so all of this is to map the hardware. The second aspect is to look at the armed actors themselves, and by that we mean anybody who has weapons - which can be state security forces, informal armed groups, organized armed groups or highly organized criminal gangs. The third thing is to look at the measures and programmes associated with armed violence... what is being done globally regionally, nationally and even at the city level, to try and combat this.  And the fourth is to focus on the victims... understanding who is killed, who is injured, who is threatened and who is victimized by armed violence and in that our focus goes beyond just weapons, because armed violence can include other  instruments - knives, clubs etc. So we want to get the whole picture in order to see what role different kinds of instruments play.

2. Why did the Small Arms Survey decide to start working on India?

Our mandate is global and we approach it in two ways. One is looking at areas where we think there is a particular issue or problem and that deserves our attention. The other is trying to focus on areas where there might be an arena or avenue for policy change of some sort. A lot of our work in the first few years focused on Africa and Latin America. Over the years we have worked in Central Asia, in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, El Salvador. We are working in Nepal and hope to be starting work in Bangladesh next year. What we do in these countries depends on what is the local context, the nature of the problem, what are the needs, and our partners - research partners and government partners.

India is definitely not a global hot spot for armed violence, but it is home to one fifth of the world's population. So we started with the idea of doing some country wide mapping, and then we want to focus on some specific areas where they may be some problems. There are some places which has latent conflict and communal or insurgent violence. There may be some areas associated with property and interpersonal crime. We would like to begin by mapping out these issues and see where our work may be most useful.

3. What are the highlights of the issue briefs that were released today?

There are few headline points from the first two issue briefs. The first point is that the violence that gets a lot of  attention in India - so called terrorist violence, is not the main cause of citizen deaths in the country. The rate of deaths due to murder or homicide is much higher than deaths due to terrorism. Now terrorism is special and it requires the development of adequate policy responses, but it is also important to have a perspective on what the other threats to people's security are.  So that's the first snapshot.

The second, which surprises some people, is that overall violence rates are perhaps going down - at least firearms violence. That is what the data says... one may want to look at it more closely and see if it happens to be correct. If that is so, that is good news.

The third point is that there are some cities, in particular regions, where levels of violence are considerably higher than the overall national average. So they are obviously, in Indian terms, hot spots. Some of them are in the northern and eastern parts of the country and one may want to look at them more closely. Conversely it seems to be relatively peaceful in the south... Now again we may want to look at it more closely and see if that is true.

4. How do you plan to develop the IAVA project further? Who do you think can benefit from it?

We still want to explore the way forward with a number of people, but presently we have in the pipeline a number of issue briefs. We have a few issues we want to focus on with individual researchers, but we know we have go beyond getting people to tap into existing knowledge and data and doing overviews to actually generating new data and new analysis. For that, we think there are at least three areas worthy of some attention - one of them is to deepen our work on mega cities, second is to focus on states where levels of violence are higher than the rest of the country and the third is the issue of violence against women. We also realize that it will be important for us to lower concerns and build trust, because it is clear that this is a sensitive topic for both individuals and institutions.

Ultimately our work has to benefit the Indian people. Our goal is to help the processes that might lead to lower levels of insecurity and victimization, and perhaps even lethal violence. Shining a spotlight on a problem sometimes also helps raise awareness and gets people to start thinking about developing better responses.

The India Armed Violence Assessment

The Small Arms Survey