It was a Monday evening near Dusshera. The sun was setting, and the sky was confused about which shade of orange it should be. The azaan could be heard over the chatter of kids begging their mothers to visit the nearby Ramlila, and roads were fully bustling. But my melted brain was struggling to articulate something. Sometimes, the 125 million photoreceptors in and around our retina do their job well of carrying whatever they’re sensing to the optic nerve, which then transfers it to the brain’s visual cortex, which interprets everything fine. Other times, you still struggle to process and react.
We were in Kanpur’s Gun Bazaar, a little perturbed by the sight of guns on display like fake Nikes at open-air markets. Located in Meston Road, the bazaar has armories and gun sellers sitting next to local bhajiwaalas and sari stores.
Most dealers told us they buy weapons from ordnance factories (a factory that makes military weapons and ammunition) nearby, or from Pune, and sell to the aam janta with carrying permits. One of India’s largest cantonments, Kanpur Cantt, is less than five kilometers from the market and houses multiple ordnance factories run by Government of India’s Department of Defence Production of Ministry of Defence.
The air isn’t tense though, the salespeople not pushy, everyone seemingly fully comfortable about the power on acquirable display. While talking about visitors, a local dealer told us that sellers remain on guard, even more so since an attempted robbery at one of the armories last year.
After walking around and trying to hit up shops for photos, we quickly realized two things: 1) People were really perturbed by the sight of our photographer (he looks like a white dude but is from Bombay); and, 2) To let us take said photos, dealers tried different ways to confirm if we were legit: some were satisfied with our cards, some wanted to photocopy our aadhar cards.
News had trickled down the grapevine that the Uttar Pradesh government was going to start issuing gun licenses after a wait of over four years. UP accounts for over a third of the gun licenses issued in India. “Yogi ji has done a good job [issuing licenses again]. It usually takes two-three months to get one, but hopefully they’ll shift it online soon, speeding up the process,” said Khwaja Afzal, a third generation weapons dealer who now runs the armory Mehboob Alam and Sons known in the area for their collection of vintage rifles.
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*name changed on request
This article originally appeared on VICE IN.