If Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” excited Americans this January, Indians were amazed with the courageous account of two Indian snipers whose stunning story broke the age and gender stereotypes, leaving rural and urban Indian women inspired.
I read this story in the news recently; I feel it has the power to encourage Indian women to live their dream no matter where they live Hailing from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh, Prakashi and Chandro Tomar’s (Prakashi’s sister-in-law) story started in 1990, when at the age of around 60 years, they took to shooting at a local shooting range established by Rajpal Singh, the honorary shooting coach with the Sports Authority of India.
It may have started with Prakashi extending support to her daughter Seema and her passion for shooting. It was not a sporting career the family was ready to support for Seema , an everyday village family bound by traditional values. Prakashi stepped in to set an example by learning to shoot at the age of 60, and also excelled at the sport. Chandro, her sister-in-law joined her soon. Today, Prakashi’s daughter Seema has become the first Indian woman to win individual gold and team gold medal at the Asian Shotgun Championship in 2014, and one of Prakashi’s granddaughter, Neetu Solanki, is an international shooter.
In times when gender issues and equality is on fire in India and women’s safety and men’s attitude towards women is being debated at large, this story challenges the traditional Indian way of thinking. In a village struggling for basic women’s education, Prakashi set an example by taking a break from everyday chores like wielding a sickle in the fields (rural India being primarily agricultural) and attending to her children and household chores, and also winning medals in many district-level events. The academy run by these dadis (fondly called village grannies) today has trained several village women in shooting.
Just like others, breaking traditional gender-based roles in a village did not come easy for the ladies. They faced the ridicule and criticism from both men and women in the village. But after training three generations of women shooters, the village of Johri today has gained the reputation of being the ‘Dadiyon ka gaon’ (the village of grannies) which has sent more than 30 international shooters to the Indian Olympics.
A thousand words cannot do what these women’s simple action did for others. It broke the traditional gender role of women and set in new standards. The village of Johri today feels proud to contribute many sharpshooters who have made their career in shooting by joining the Indian Army, Navy and Security forces; apart from training many national level shooters for the Indian Olympics. A village with a population of over 5,500 people today stands out simply because two women believed in living their dream. It has empowered women of the village and given them hope. At the age of 78 , the grannies’ (dadis) sure deserve a round of applause!
I am sure this story will not only inspire Indian women, but several others who struggle with traditional taboos and gender biases around the world. Setting a role model for other women in the village, and changing gender perception amid traditional stereotypes, it took guns to make it to glory.
Is it Indian sniping at its best? What do you think ?
Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.