NEW DELHI – Chandro Tomar first picked up a gun when she was around 68 years old.
Until then she had led a quiet life in Johri, a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most conservative regions of India. She spent her days doing chores – milking cows, cutting grass, grinding wheat, and mopping the floors of the large house she shared with her extended family.
But a trip to a local shooting range with her granddaughter Shefali, who was 12 at the time, changed everything. She discovered that she had a present to shoot with. A range trainer encouraged her to practice, and she returned to the range with Shefali every week under the guise of supervising them.
The two took turns firing the air pistol. Mrs. Tomar exercised every night after her family fell asleep, holding up heavy pitchers so she could keep her arm still. A few months after first picking up a gun, she competed in a regional championship and won a silver medal. (Shefali won a gold medal in the same tournament.) Her family didn’t find out about her performance until a local newspaper published an article about her.
“My husband and his brothers were very angry,” Ms. Tomar recalled in a recent interview. They said, ‘What are people going to think? An old lady your age who wants to shoot guns? You should take care of your grandchildren. ‘”
“I was listening to you quietly,” she said, “but I’ve decided to keep going no matter what.”
Mrs. Tomar, who usually wore a long skirt, blouse, and headscarf, competed in shooting competitions until her 80s, often against men with a military background. She eventually won more than 25 medals.
Ms. Tomar, who was born in 1931, died on April 30 in a hospital in the town of Meerut near her village, said Sumit Rathi, the husband of her granddaughter Shefali. She was hospitalized for a gastrointestinal disorder and then suffered a cerebral haemorrhage, he said.
Together with Shefali, two sons, Vinod and Omveer, survive; three daughters, Savita, Kaushal and Dharambiri; nine other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her husband, Bhawar Singh Tomar, died before her.
Mr. Tomar never saw his wife competing, and he and his brothers ended up ignoring their new interest. “That was good for me,” she said.
Ms. Tomar took pride in her work as a coach and mentor to hundreds of young women across the country. She persuaded families in Johri to send their young daughters to shooting ranges to learn the sport and often went door to door to speak to reluctant parents.
Today there are dozens of shooting clubs in their area of western Uttar Pradesh, and hundreds of children take the sport seriously. For many of them it is a ticket to a better life and a job in the Indian army or security forces. All of her grandchildren have participated at the national level, although only Shefali still does.
Chandro Malik was born into a large farming family, the only daughter of five siblings. She never went to school. She married Mr. Tomar when she was 15 and spent the next 50 years raising her family.
Her defiance of patriarchal and social norms and her determination to keep trying new things inspired countless people in her village and beyond. She was affectionately known in India as “Shooter Dadi” (“Shooter Grandma”). In her later years, she traveled the country talking about women’s empowerment until the pandemic forced her to stay home.
Her children and grandchildren fulfilled one of their dreams by building an indoor shooting range for disadvantaged children in part of their home. It opened last month.
“Dadi was happiest teaching a new generation and shooting targets,” said Rathi, “and we plan to continue with her life’s work.”