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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim women take to shooting as sport, for self defence

Revolutions never happen overnight nor empowerment is brought forth just by wishful thinking. It requires time, patience, true dedication and certainly a strong will to succeed and achieve the impossible. KULSUM MUSTAFA reports how a small beginning is being made by a handful of individuals to train women in fire arms as a discipline for self defence, aiming at providing just the right degree of the much needed liberation for the fairer sex. The training is absolutely free of cost. The fact that nearly 40 per cent of the women members at the range are from the minority community and some of them even don the traditional Islamic veil makes their struggle for gender equality and empowerment more interesting, and more laudable. 

The Milli Gazette Online

Lucknow: Situated at just a distance of about six kilometers from the city, on the banks of River Gomti is the sleepy hamlet of Martinpurwa where a shooting range is located. While age and gender are no bar for membership, a conscious effort has been going on here for the past five years to train more and more women in arms for self-defence. Every Sunday morning the quiet of the place is broken when nearly 60 people descend here for their weekly target practice. The group comprises retired and serving officers, students, housewives and even children. R K Narang, president of the Marksman Sports Academy, a semi private organization affiliated to the Sports Academy of Uttar Pradesh which runs the range, explains that it makes him extremely happy that so many women are learning this sport. 

"I had set up this range in February 2000, in the memory of my late father wishing to encourage the art and science of marksmanship among the civil population for self defence. It came as a pleasant surprise to me that among the first members to enroll here were Muslim women. While the training is free for everyone, for women members we even do not charge the enrolment fee," says Narang adding that competitions are regularly organized and members taken outside the state for tournaments. One of the dedicated shooter here is 72-year old Razia Khan. Wife of a former brigadier, this ace shooter who has won many awards and honours never looked back since 1954, when she first took up the gun. It is to her credit that today besides her son both her daughter and daughter-in-law share her passion for the sports and are position-holders in the game. "The whole family is trigger-happy," she says jokingly gathering her concentration for the shoot. A firm believer that what men can so women can do better, Razia scorns at all those who feel that a tough sport like shooting is not for women. Razia is also the unofficial coach at the range. She proudly displays her Winchester, a gift from her late father, given to her half a century ago. Dr Khursheed Jahan and her younger sister Tauseef are both in their thirties. They confess that it is only after learning shooting that they now feel at par with the male members of the family. "This sport has given us both tremendous self-confidence and courage," say the duo who travel all the way from the old part of the city every Sunday for target practice. Nazia Hasan, a young housewife initially started coming to the range to give her businessman hubby company. But soon she got drawn into the game and today she finds the whole challenge "exciting and all consuming." Twelve-year-old Ankita Singh finds it funny why just because she is a girl she should be prevented from becoming an ace shooter. "My father is a police officer and we two sisters have learnt shooting from him. In fact, in Aligarh where my dad was last posted, we had a shooting range in the house only. Sure shooting is fun," she gushes. 

What makes this range more interesting is its historical significance. Narang informs us that till 1947, this range belonged to the East India Company and was used to train English cadets. It lay unused for five decades when Narang spotted it and got it on lease from the Uttar Pardesh government. The range boasts of three shooting traps that were brought by Dr Karni Singh all the way from England. Narang says that top shooters like Jaspal Rana and Olympic medal winner Rathore have also used this place for their initial target training. Paucity of funds often bring hurdles but Narang, who is in his late sixties says resolutely, "come what may till my last breath I will run this range, funds or no funds." 

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