By Harihar Swarup
Sharp shooter, Chandro Tai, is now 80 but never misses her target. Every morning after finishing her daily chores, she goes to the shooting range close to her house to practice air pistol shooting, something she has been doing for almost 60 years. Even in the scorching summer, when temperature hits 45 degree Celsius, Chandro can be found practicing for her skills in the shooting range. She has participated in many national and international competitions and won many medals.
However, being not literate, she does not exactly know the names of championships she had taken part and the countries she has visited. The only she remembers are Singapore and Malaysia. Chandro hails from Johri, a village located about 500 miles from Lucknow. And, she is not alone. There are many others, especially women who are active practitioners of shooting in Johri.
But for its shooters and shooting range, Johri is just like any other Indian village. Good roads are absent, water shortage in common and power supply erratic. Its population of 7,000 is a mix of Jats, Pathans and Dalits. While a majority of inhabitants are farmers, the young generation is increasingly turning to other profession like real estate development, teaching and business.
Johri became famous for its shooters after setting up of a shooting range in 1989 by Rajpal Singh, an honorary shooting coach of the Sports Authority of India. A native of Johri, Rajpal was inspired after watching the shooting competition in the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi. He realized that with Baghpat’s penchant for guns, the region has the potential for producing good marksmen, if proper training is provided.
Though money was hard to come, Rajpal opened a shooting range at the sprawling 100-year-old house. The shooting range today has an area of 4,000 sq. ft, where six people can be trained at a time. As there are no fix timings, people can come and practice according to their convenience.
Most of the children who are trained here are from poor families but they are always ready to give their best, according to the coaches. More than 1,000 people—a majority of them women- have received training here. “We give training air pistol, air rifle shooting and it is true. People can bring their own guns and practice The training is given in pistol and air rifle shooting free. People can bring their own rifle and practice”.
The shooting range has changed lives of many youth. Rubi Tomar of the Punjab Police, Sema Tomar and Varsha Tomar, who are in the army and Shefali Tomar, who is at the University of Chandigarh, are some of the successful products from Johri shooting range . Rajiv Jatav, son of a brick-klin worker, has found job in the Central Reserve Police Force.
But when it began 24 years ago, things were not so easy for Singh and his supporters. Many people thought that the youth would become dacoits if they mastered shooting. The patriarchal culture prevailing in the region too played its part as men opposed women handling guns.
Chandro Tai says “I used to wait till everyone in my house was asleep. Only then would I go to the range”. But things have changed now with people realizing the benefit of shooting learning.
Johri, however, has a long way to go. Facilities are limited and financial support for students is far from adequate. Those children who excel are adopted by the Sports Authority and given monthly scholarship of Rs. 600 per month and are supported till they are 18, said caretaker of the shooting range.
Another shooting range is coming up in Johri, which will focus on imparting training in 50-meter event, but the lack of financial supporting is affecting its progress. An air pistol costs Rs. 65,000 and a box of pellets costs more than Rs. 4000, which budding shooters can hardly afford. Johri certainly needs support from the rest of the country.
Rahul Gandhi and Jayant Chaudhury, son of Union Minister, Ajit Singh, have also helped the shooting enthusiasts. (IPA Service)