An Indian nationalist party handed out tens of thousands of knives and a large quantity of chili powder to women in Mumbai to defend themselves against would-be rapists.
The move comes as nationwide outrage following the rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December last year continues.
The Shiv Sena party gave out some 21,000 kitchen knives with three-inch-long blades to women and plan to distribute another 100,000, reported Reuters. The Shiv Sena party, which has been described as “ultra-nationalist,” is allied with India’s main opposition party.
“This is a symbolic gesture,” Shiv Sena spokesman Rahul Narvekar told the news agency, saying that the short knives do not fit the country’s definition of a weapon because they are smaller than six inches in length.
The small bags of chili powder handed out by the party can be used to throw into the eyes of a potential attacker. “It’s only to pass a signal to eve-teasers, anti-social elements, and perpetrators of crime against women that women are empowered and they can take care of themselves,” Narvekar said.
“The way you cut vegetables, cut the hand of the person who touches you the same way,” local representative of the Shiv Sena party, Ajay Chowdhary, told a crowd of supporters, adding that women should keep the blades in their purses, reported AFP.
“The government has failed to provide security to women, so we are distributing these knives to help them defend themselves,” Chowdhary said.
A local Mumbai police commissioner, Datta Karale, told the Asian Age that his office would examine the legal ramifications of handing out tens of thousands of knives.
“We have a few knife samples, but are yet to take any action. We will take legal opinion, thoroughly examine the issue, its seriousness and violations, if any, and then decide on the future course of action. The knives are 3-inch long and the type is used commonly for kitchen purposes. They do not seem very dangerous,” he told the publication.
The Shiv Sena are a polarizing political party in India. Founded by Bal Thackeray in the 1950s, the party has embraced a pro-Hindu nationalist and anti-Muslim stance.
In India, there has been an ongoing debate over sexual assault laws in India after a 23-year-old student was raped and beaten on a bus on Dec. 16 in New Delhi, the capital of India. She died two weeks later. Some politicians and others have called for such assaults to receive the death penalty.
Since the start of this year, there have been three other highly publicized cases of rape in India, according to activist website Avaaz.