The bows and arrows seized from a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) office in Darjeeling on Thursday are legal items used for sporting activities, experts have told HT.
The confiscated articles, which included a compound crossbow (a bow but with short arms and long string, horizontally fitted to a rifle-like stock to ensure perfect aim) and two compound longbows (technically similar to a traditional bow but with shorter arms and longer strings attached to pulleys that generate more energy), were termed by the Mamata Banerjee government as weapons stockpiled to target police personnel.
Far from being illegal, these bows and arrows made of fibre-glass can be bought from stores as well as online shopping websites such as Amazon and eBay, experts said. The crossbow, often seen in Hollywood movies, is regularly used in competitions across the globe, they added.
“Both compound crossbows and the less-powerful recurve crossbows are used in competitions where one has to hit targets set at distances ranging from 20 to 70 metres. As crossbows don’t come under the purview of the Indian Arms Act, they are completely legal,” said Anil Kaushik, president of the Crossbow Shooting Association of India.
The Bengal administration didn’t say if any of these bows had been used against the police in Darjeeling since the unrest began last week.
The televised seizure of the bows and arrows triggered a controversy on Thursday, with GJM leaders claiming that bows and arrows recovered from the office were meant for cultural events. “A crossbow or a modern compound bow can be used to injure or kill, just like a traditional bow. But then, even a common kitchen knife can be used for that purpose. It’s a matter of intent,” Kaushik said.
Today, crossbow shooting is gaining popularity in India. “As we are affiliated to the World Crossbow Shooting Association, we regularly organise and participate in international events,” said Rajat Vij, president of the Indian Crossbow Shooting Association. “Crossbow shooting would probably have been more popular here if it was recognised as a regular event in the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. But that’s not to be, probably because it can’t be legally owned by civilians in a few countries, such as Malaysia.”
Bollywood has had its brush with the humble crossbow too. Toofan, a 1989 superhero flick directed by Ketan Desai, had Amitabh Bachchan using a bow fitted with a rifle-like butt to take on the dreaded bandit Shaitan Singh.
Bows and arrows have always been an integral part of tribal life in India, especially Jharkhand and West Bengal. In 2009, hundreds of tribals armed with traditional weapons – including bows and arrows – staged an armed protest against the Left Front government in Kolkata. Back then, the Trinamool Congress had supported them.
Police raided the main GJM office near Darjeeling on Thursday, sparking a strike call that stands to spur further violence in the hill town.