Indian political party gives knives to women for protection

India's Shiv Sena party began handing out the knives so women could better defend themselves after a gang rape on a New Delhi bus caused the death of a woman.

Media reports are saying that an Indian political group is distributing knives to women in Mumbai after a gang rape on a Delhi bus resulted in the death of a young woman in December.

The group, Shiv Sena, is a Hindu nationalist party based out of Mumbai. According to Agence France-Presse, the party intends to distribute 21,000 knives, which it claims will be for protection. The party also handed out small bags of chilli powder which they wanted women to throw into their attacker's eye.

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Shiv Sena spokesperson Ajay Chowdhary was quoted in media reports as saying, "The government has failed to provide security to women, so we are distributing these knives to help them to defend themselves."

Chowdhary was also quoted as telling supporters, "The way you cut vegetables, cut the hand of the person who touches you the same way." He said women should keep the three-inch blades in their purses. 

Shiv Sena handed out Chinese retractable knives to women at a function in Mumbai Wednesday on the birth anniversary of the group's late leader, Bal Thackeray, who died in November, the Indian news magazine Outlook reported.

"Thackeray used to say women should prefer a Rampuri (a switchblade-type knife) in their purse rather than a lipstick," Outlook quoted Chowdhary as saying. Currently only Shiv Sena's south Mumbai wing is distributing the knives, but other wings might follow.

Mumbai police are currently investigating the knives and considering legal action.

"This is a symbolic gesture," said Shiv Sena spokesperson Rahul Narvekar, adding that a knife that is shorter than six inches in length does not fit the definition of a weapon. "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. In India, the term "eve-teasing" is a euphemism for public sexual harassment or molestation of women. Eve-teasing is a rampant problem in India.

Chowdhary said that a team of nine advocates would protect women from any potential court cases that might arise from using the knives.

A 23-year-old physiotherapy student was beaten and raped on a moving bus on Dec. 16 in New Delhi before being thrown bleeding on an expressway. The attack caused public outrage at the failure of the police and government to protect women in a country where one rape is reported on an average every 20 minutes. More women have started taking up self defense classes and are carrying pepper spray to protect themselves from such attacks.

Information from Reuters is included in this report.

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