‘I’ll keep shooting until my last breath.’
– Chandro Tomar
In a country where women face daily oppression and violence, inspiration and motivation to keep going can be hard to find. However, despite the patriarchal hell that some women find themselves in India, there is never a shortage of exceptional, mould-breaking women challenging inequality.
86-year-old grandmother, farmer, cook, and champion sharpshooter Chandro Tomar is one of them.
She has spent most of her life cooking, cleaning, and tending cattle in the village of Johri in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India.
At a glance, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about Chandro Tomar, until you see her pick up a gun and with what appears to be very little effort, fire off a round of bullets, all bullseyes.
‘I’ve won a lot of medals’, she laughs, ‘about 100 to 150.’
First picking up a gun at age 65, Tomar had accompanied her granddaughter to the Johri Rifle Club.
‘It was 1999’, she recalls, ‘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.’
On her first ever try, she hit the mark.
When the club’s coach saw her obvious natural ability he invited her to come back and regularly train.
‘I enjoyed it so much it became a passion and I looked forward to the club every week. Now, men lose to me and say that they’re embarrassed by a woman.’
Chandro once defeated the Deputy Inspector General of the Delhi police in a shooting competition. ‘I defeated an officer of the rank of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police in Delhi. When he was leaving, someone said: at least get yourself photographed with granny. The DIG said: ‘What photograph, I have been humiliated by a woman.’
Sexism such as this from high ranking members of the police force is worrying, especially in Delhi where India Today reports that in 2016, 40% of women experienced sexual harassment, usually in broad daylight.
Initially keeping it a secret from her family fearing they wouldn’t understand, every evening when she had finished her chores, Tomar says she would ‘sneak out of the house and start practicing in the field or the outhouse.’
Eventually, her family did find out and half-heartedly tried to stop her from leaving the house, while the rest of the village derided her for wanting to shoot. This all changed in 1999 when Tomar won a silver medal at the North-Zone Shooting Championship.
‘I got a lot of attention from the media, and I wanted to use that attention to get other women from my village interested in shooting.’
After winning the silver medal, Tomar went around the houses persuading families to let her train their daughters and reluctantly, some agreed.
‘Most of the children I train go on to join the police or the Indian army, a lot of them get shooting scholarships and join colleges that would have never otherwise accepted them.’
Single-handedly increasing the percentage of women getting powerful jobs or places in higher education in India deserves a medal in itself, as women are often not allowed or unable to have access to education, or employment.
In 2012 there were 8,233 ‘dowry deaths’, wherein a bride or married women is killed or kills herself over a dispute over the dowry. 2,244 of those deaths took place in Uttar Pradesh. Rape is also on the rise in India, increasing from 21,467 cases in 2008 to 24,923 in 2012, and these are just the reported incidents as it is assumed that the majority of rapes go unreported in India.
‘I like sharpshooting because it helps us,’ says Tomar, ‘On top of being a sport it teaches women like me self defence.’
2018 was the year India got its first female combat pilot flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi. Comparatively, it was also the year a man took his wife to the Bombay High Court after filing for divorce on the grounds that she used to get up late and did not cook tasty food. The case was dismissed but the fact that it even made it to court highlights what would be farcical in the UK, is grounds for divorce in India.
The sharpshooting Granny has spent the last 20 years travelling the country teaching women and girls to shoot and setting up shooting ranges for them. ‘I think women can do anything that men can, and I get excited when I see girls becoming soldiers, pilots, and police inspectors.’
In a largely male-dominated society, it is difficult for women to be heard. Thanks to Chandro Tomar, many women are finding that with a gun in their hand, men have started listening.
‘I think it’s important to keep learning and it’s important never to let anyone remind you how old you are.’
– Chandro Tomar
Main image credit: Shariq Allaqaband