The Asian Games gold medal in air pistol (10m) won by 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary, has brought the unique story of the Veer Shahmal Rifle Club in Binauli, Baghpat district, Uttar Pradesh, into the limelight.
This is where Saurabh, the son of a humble sugarcane farmer, trained as a 13-year-old in 2015. Starting off as a tin shed, shooters practising at the Veer Shahmal Rifle Club would have to sometimes stop practice midway in the event of strong winds which would kick up dust.
“There were no fans. The other kids would stop their practice in smouldering summer afternoons. Not Saurabh. Only 13 then, he would be drenched in sweat but keep shooting. He would always remain focused and calm, like a monk,” recalls Amit Sheoran, a former shooter who runs the rifle club, in a conversation with Times of India.
It was only the following year when the shooting range shifted base by a 0.5 kilometre to a plot of land gifted to Amit by a student’s father. Today, the 15×12 square metre rifle club has two fans to help shooters beat the sweltering heat in Binauli where temperatures during the summer regularly go past 40 degrees Celsius.
Although this space isn’t enough for the 26 young boys who train there, it’s their first stepping stone to success and, hopefully, prosperity.
Coming from the Jat, Muslim and other OBC communities, many of these young boys are children of marginal farmers, while a few come from landowning families. At the range, a printout that reads “Our aim is Olympic” asserts the motto of every young teenager that practices there.
Named after an 1857 revolutionary who took on the British, the club itself was set up by Amit back in 2011. The son of a farmer, Amit had to give up his dreams of shooting early because of financial troubles. However, as he grew older, Amit found another way to fulfil his aspirations.
“I wanted to help young shooters, give them the opportunities I never got,” he says. Amit spent Rs 2 lakh to get things started, and for the new eight-lane range he has invested another Rs 4.5 lakh. “We had only two weapons to begin with—an air rifle and an air pistol,” says Amit, speaking to ToI.
The rifle club is also home to Deepender Singh, who set a world record in the men’s 10m air pistol SH1 category in the Para Shooting World Cup last year with a score of 238.3. Aside from seeing one of his wards pick up the gold in the Asian Games, Amit has also helped his older students land jobs in the Indian Army through the sports quota.
Amit, who co-owns nine bighas of land with his brother, charges every student Rs 500 a month and does not provide them with a gun or pellets. Students have to get their own gear, although there are members like Shubham Sharma, a 13-year-old son of a mason, who trains for free.
These students train all through the day and sometimes even at night until the government decides to indulge in some load-shedding. “At least we have 16 hours of electricity now during the Yogi government. During the earlier regime, it was around 12 hours,” Amit tells the Times of India.
What Amit constantly asks of his wards is to work tirelessly on their technique as there is a great deal of science to the game. Even before hitting the sack, students are asked to practice their posture, grip, and follow through without the gun in hand.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)