Two of the most prestigious sporting awards in India are the Arjuna Award for sportsmen, and the Dronacharya Award for coaches. Both these awards are named after legendary marksmen.
From the great archers of the Ramayana and Mahabharata down to the army of Porus which broke Alexander’s will, and then finally to Guru Gobind Singh, marksmanship has played a very important role in shaping the geopolitical and religious history of the Indian sub-continent. The use of marksmanship has been documented in the history and mythology of the Indian sub-continent, much more than by other eastern or western texts.
One of the last displays of brilliant marksmanship before the British took over the reigns of the country was at Rupnagar, by the Army of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, in the presence of Lord William Bentinck, which completely put the British show to shame.
It was the last independent display of the best marksmanship qualities of the sub-continent.
This event was just before the expansion of colonial dominion and the invention of mass-produced firearms through the Industrial Revolution. The rulers faced a new challenge—gun control—as the musket and flintlocks progressed into more sophisticated firearms. The lessons learned from the American Revolution and the shift of control from the East India Company to the British Government after the 1857 Rebellion made control all the more imperative.
The British formed a very strict gun policy which banned Indians from owning firearms while exempting most of their own.
Replying to a pamphlet after the First World War, Gandhi wrote, “Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to the Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the British will withdraw the ban on possessing arms.”
Our marksmanship has proudly raised the Indian flag in numerous world championships, and the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.
At the same time, it has gallantly defended our borders and made sure the Indian flag fluttered on our borders, and will keep doing so in the future.
Some time ago, authorities caught some so-called “shooters” bringing illicit firearms into the country. They should face justice, and the courts should take the strictest of action for indulging in such unlawful acts.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has played a very important and positive role in the development of shooting sports in India, and we must encourage it to keep on doing so in the future.
Recently, there have been photographs of our shooters who returned to the country after participating in the World Cup. They had to sleep on the airport floors while waiting for over 12 hours without any assistance. This is absolutely shameful and pathetic. Someone else’s personal act should not make every shooter an accused in this country. Imagine the consequences if the same logic applied to every politician and bureaucrat. This act is against the very fabric of democracy and jurisprudence.
Honour is the backbone of every sportsman and solider. We must do everything to protect it, and not let individuals jeopardize the great sport of shooting, and its future.
Mr. Prime Minister, please don’t let marksmanship die in this country, or it may be the end of heroism in India.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of The Better India.