Festive Gunfire: When Celebrations Turn Tragic

On September 5, 2004, MLC Ajit Singh’s birthday celebration turned fatal for him when he collapsed on the ground while watching a performance. He was hit by a stray bullet.
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Picture for representational purpose onlysource-Desiblitz

Lucknow: Celebratory firing, also known as 'happy firing' or 'warning shots,' refers to the practice of firing guns into the air during celebrations, such as weddings, festivals, or other joyous occasions. While it may be considered a tradition in some cultures, it poses serious risks and sometimes results in fatalities. Deaths may also be caused by misfires and falling objects, such as bricks, after being hit by bullets. Furthermore, the noise can be disruptive.

One of the most discussed deaths due to celebratory or accidental firing is believed to be that of SP MLC Ajit Singh. On September 5, 2004, MLC Ajit Singh’s birthday celebration turned fatal for him when he collapsed on the ground while watching a performance. He was hit by a stray bullet. Although there was a widely held belief that the criminal-turned politician was killed in a planned murder, nothing could be proven, and it is believed that he died in celebratory firing.

In 2018, a 28-year-old Jawan Kuldeep Dikshit was killed in the Chakeri area of Kanpur while attending a wedding. He was shot by his own rifle when one Sanjay Maurya used it for firing shots in the air, inadvertently hitting the deceased. That same year, a groom was killed in a wedding procession in Lakhimpur district of Uttar Pradesh when a shot fired by his friend hit him.

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Revellers ride roughshod over the law. After a series of such incidents in 2018, the state police decided to take action against people indulging in celebratory firing. The state police warned that the firearm licenses of those indulging in celebratory firing would be cancelled, and they would be sent to jail. The then DGP also warned that action would be taken against the SHOs and the policemen posted at the outposts who failed to implement the order. The firearm owners were directed to maintain a register mentioning the use of cartridges. They were also supposed to produce empty cartridges before the police.

Later in 2019, the Arms (Amendment) Act was passed, which made celebratory firing even with licensed guns a criminal offense, attracting two years’ imprisonment and a fine. However, a slew of incidents this wedding season proves that the measures taken by the government have not been able to dissuade revelers from indulging in the act, which kills hundreds of people each year. In 2021, with 71 deaths, Uttar Pradesh topped the charts in deaths due to accidental firing, according to the NCRB report.

In a series of recent incidents in Uttar Pradesh, 'A 22-year-old boy was killed in celebratory firing here on Monday while attending a pre-wedding event of his friend’s sister in Quaiserbagh area of Lucknow. This is another death due to such 'overzealousness' shown by the revelers at a wedding. Just a few days back, a 16-year-old Dalit boy was killed in Pratapgarh when a stray bullet hit him during a wedding function.

Court judgments advocate a sense of responsibility for gun owners. Former Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, while announcing a verdict in 2020, remarked, 'A gun licensed for self-protection or the safety and security of crops and cattle cannot be fired at celebratory events, as it is a potential cause of fatal accidents. Such misuse of firearms converts a happy event into a pall of gloom. The appellant cannot escape the consequences of carrying the gun with live cartridges with the knowledge that firing at a marriage ceremony with people present there was imminently dangerous and likely to cause death.'

In the Kunwar Pal Vs. State of Uttarakhand judgment of 2013, the Supreme Court observed, 'Everybody who carries a gun with live cartridges and even others know that firing a gun, and that too in the presence of several people, is an act likely to cause death, as indeed it did. Guns must be carried with a sense of responsibility and caution and are not meant to be used in such places like marriage ceremonies.'

While some cultures may see the firing of shots during the celebration as normal, the fact that this can cause inadvertent deaths and turn the joyous atmosphere into a pall of gloom must be taken into consideration. The warning that 'thrill can kill' also applies to this culture. Hopefully, society gradually wakes up to the fact that firing shots in the air does not benefit anyone.

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