Revolver Dadi: India’s 86-year-old sharpshooter

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Uttar Pradesh, India – At the grand age of 86, Chandro Tomar stands upright with her arm perfectly straight, holding an air pistol. 

Even in old age, her eyesight does not fail her. 

Dressed in a white shirt, blue skirt and a scarf covering her head, she aims at a target from a distance of 10 metres. A moment of pause and she hits the bull’s eye.

She hails from Uttar Pradesh, which has witnessed several so-called “honour killings” in recent years and has been named by media as one of India’s most dangerous states for women.

Tomar, who discovered her passion for shooting when she turned 65, has earned the nickname “Revolver Dadi”, or “Revolver Granny”.

Like many other grandmothers in India, day by day, she cooks for her family, tends to cattle, milks the cows and takes care of the mounds of cow dung.

But in addition to the daily grind, this granny – who is the oldest known sharpshooter in India and often cited as the world’s oldest female sharpshooter – trains hundreds of young boys and girls in her favourite skill.

Chandro Tomar took up shooting at the age of 65, when most people retire [Haziq Qadri/Al Jazeera]

At the age when people usually retire, Tomar began a new journey.

“Though my neighbours and relatives mocked me at first when they saw me shooting, my success made them think otherwise,” she tells Al Jazeera. 

She recalls the day when she accompanied her granddaughter, Shifali Tomar, to the shooting range. Shifali only half-heartedly practised at the Johri Rifle Club. 

“It was 1999,” says Tomar. “My granddaughter was afraid of going to the Rifle Club alone so she asked me to come along. I told her to learn shooting and excel in it and make us proud. She was not that interested. I casually picked up a pistol and shot at the target.”

That was the first time she had held a pistol and she hit the bull’s eye.

“When the coach saw this, he asked me to follow my passion.”

Tomar says she believes in equal gender rights and trains women in self-defence [Haziq Qadri/Al Jazeera]

In the following days, she would wait for everyone, including her father and husband, to sleep so she could leave her home and practise shooting in the fields.

To improve her balancing skills, she would straighten her arm and hold a jug of water for a long time. 

Fearing her family might become upset or angry with her new hobby, she kept shooting a secret.

“In a village where girls were not sent to schools or allowed to work, an old woman holding a pistol and following her passion was odd and invited ridicule,” she says. 

To Tomar’s surprise, one day at home she saw her photograph in the local newspaper. She snipped the image out so that her husband and father did not see. But she could not conceal her new identity for long. 

“When the media started writing about me frequently and I started getting awards, everyone came to know about me and they were happy and proud,” says the sportswoman, who has five children and 15 grandchildren. 

Her success has inspired her neighbours and relatives.

In a village where girls were not sent to schools or allowed to work, an old woman holding a pistol and following her passion was odd and invited ridicule.

Chandro Tomar, 86-year-old sharpshooter

When the news spread, young boys and girls requested that she train them to shoot.

“I started a shooting range here in my village where I train young boys and girls for free. Young people from neighbouring villages also come here to learn shooting.”

Tomar also influenced her sister-in-law, who is older. 

As well as training hundreds of youngsters in Uttar Pradesh, Tomar taught nine members of her family including her niece Seema and improved the skills of her granddaughter Shifila. 

Seema went on to become the first Indian woman to win a medal in the 2010 Shotgun Championships and Shifali has participated in international competitions in Hungary and Germany. 

Many of Tomar’s female students have landed jobs in the Indian army. 

The elderly sharpshooter says her aim to empower young women and make them feel safe. 

In a place like Uttar Pradesh, where crimes against women are prevalent, Tomar says self-defence is of utmost importance.

Women and men should have the same opportunities in sports and other spheres of life, she adds, remembering the day she competed with a police officer in competition. 

That was just two years after she had taken to sharpshooting, and she defeated the police officer.

According to reports, the police officer refused to stand by Tomar’s side for a photograph, claiming to have been humiliated by a woman.

A woman’s strength

Looking ahead, Tomar wants to set up a hostel in her village so that people from other states can join her shooting club. 

“Recently, I got a call from someone from Rajasthan. She wanted me to train her in sharpshooting. When I told her I could not travel to her state, she was disappointed,” Tomar says. “If a hostel is set up here, people like her can stay there and train themselves.” 

Having won more than 30 championships in 10-metre pistol shooting, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh – Yogi Adityanath – has celebrated her achievements. 

She regularly appears on TV shows and several Bollywood stars have made the pilgrimage to visit her.

Perhaps her greatest achievement, though, is how her name is used to fight off cultural traditions that trap women in impossible situations.

When a girl in her village is asked for dowry, for instance, people have been known to cite Tomar’s name as a way of showing women’s strength – and the demand is given up.

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