Indian boomtowners are packing heat

An Indian security official at a police armory holds a rifle and bullets.

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Gurgaon is an Indian boomtown. The city of more than half a million is on the southern fringe of India's capital, New Delhi. It's home to big international companies such as IBM and Microsoft. It also has a reputation for lawlessness that's led some to call it India's "Dodge City." From Gurgaon, Raymond Thibodeaux reports.


Raymond Thibodeaux: Traffic choked today, a decade ago, Gurgaon was mostly farmland. But the farmers saw rich pickings in selling their fields to developers. They all grew wealthy on a bumper crop of office parks and shopping malls.

Farmer-turned-developer Narinder Junega owns a commercial real estate company here. People like him have made a killing.

Narinder Junega: They are selling again and again and getting very good gains. Some of them have new vehicles. Their lifestyle has been changed.

Junega says the city's wealth has attracted robbers, kidnappers, and carjackers eager for a piece of the action. The rich, fed up with being victims of crime, have become Gunslingers instead. The number of firearms licenses has tripled in the past two years.

There's no shortage of customers at Haryana Gun Shop. Owner Tajina Singh says most of his clients are wealthy business people.

Tajina Singh: Crime is rising. You have money. You have to keep yourself protected. Police force can't protect each and every citizen.

But what does it say about a city when realtors and bankers are forced to play Wyatt Earp?

Tajina Singh makes a nice living from gun sales, but as a local businessman, he wants a nice reputation for his hometown.

Singh: That is cowboy perception there. No, no, here it is not that kind of thing.

Even so, according to some estimates, up to 40 percent of households in Gurgaon have at least one firearm. That puts Gurgaon on par with many U.S. cities in terms of gun ownership, but it's about five times the gun-owning rates of India's biggest cities.

Binalaskshmi Nepram is secretary general for the Control Arms Foundation of India. She says fear isn't the only reason for the high gun-owning rates here:

Binalaskshmi Nepram: Owning a gun for many upper class Indians is like a status symbol. You buy a car, you buy a house, next thing is you have a gun.

Nepram fears the current economic downturn will only make things worse. Many businesses are now "getting out of Dodge." Job losses and poverty are on the rise -- in a place where so many are still packing heat.

In Gurgaon, I'm Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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