GROWING UP, Shiva Narwal wanted to be a kabaddi player. It made sense: his state Haryana has a rich history of producing top athletes in contact sports. But then his older brother Manish established himself as one of the world’s top shooters, breaking the world record to win air pistol gold in the 50m at the Tokyo Paralympics last year. And their father Dilbaug asked Shiva and his younger sister Shikha to accompany Manish to the shooting range.
Their move to filming was quick – and, ultimately, the right choice.
Shiva and Shikha are now seasoned international shooters, having won gold at the ISSF Junior World Championship and the ISSF Junior World Cup. Last week at the Khelo India Youth Games, Shiva won a gold medal and Shikha a bronze medal, helping Haryana bag seven of the 12 medals at stake and putting the state ahead of the tally.
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Their father admits he was skeptical when Manish, who hasn’t been able to participate in contact sports due to an impairment in his right arm since birth, showed interest in shooting. “(But) as I gained more knowledge from watching my children compete, I can tell you that there is no better test for an athlete’s focus and commitment. There is less risk of injury, it’s an individual sport, it can be played in all age groups,” Dilbaug said.
In a state struggling with a ‘gun culture’ and at a time when the high-profile murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala is making headlines, the essence of Narwal’s push for filming is entirely at the opposite of how popular local music videos advocate the use of weapons.
Shiva tells how he got addicted to sports. “I started after watching Manish. I wasn’t too enthusiastic at first,” he said. At a CBSE National Championship a few years ago, a vastly improved performance, after a poor finish in the first event, ignited the spark. “The fact of having done well and of being on the podium motivated me. It was the turning point,” he said.
Haryana has produced the best shooters over the years including Manu Bhaker and Yashaswini Deswal and the potential of the state’s young shooters has been on full display at the Khelo India Youth Games.
Of the seven medal winners from Haryana, five were pistol shooters, four of whom are trained by coach Rakesh Singh who runs the 10x Shooting Academy at Ballabgarh in Faridabad. Singh coaches Shiva, Shikha, Tiyana Phogat and Palak – all of whom have represented India recently. He also coaches Paralympians Manish and Rahul Jakhar, as well as Deaflympian Shubham Vashisht.
“The environment we have been able to create is the best thing about our academy. Someone will be training at the shooting range and two places next to them will be an India international, two places next to them will be a medalist. Paralympic gold. No better motivator than that,” Sharma said.
Individual attention is at the heart of the formula. “There’s so much talent in this state but it’s about seeing the little differences in each of these youngsters. With Shiva he doesn’t need any motivation. Whatever technique you try to teach him , he has a natural sense of the gun. His sister, Shikha, may not have the same energy, but she is an amazing learner. She does so well for her age because she picks things up so quickly said Singh.
Haryana’s recent athletic successes are well documented, particularly in contact sports: 12 of the state’s 31 athletes who represented India at the Tokyo Olympics were either wrestlers or boxers. Of the five state medalists, Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Bajrang Punia are wrestlers. But while sports like kabaddi, boxing and wrestling have state-run facilities and academies in every corner, the region doesn’t boast the same for its shooters.
Ashok Mittal, Vice President of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and General Secretary of the Haryana Rifle Association, says that although Haryana produces national shooting talent, the absence of a nationally run shooting range State can hold back many. “What we don’t have in institutions, we make up for in individual care,” he said.
There are many private shooting ranges where the costs will have to be borne by the shooter, and home practice ranges can also be constructed for air rifles and air pistols. But Mittal says the lack of state-level competition can cost shooters dearly.
“We can run one state competition a year through SAI at the Dr Karni Singh range in Delhi where we pay rent. But if we don’t host more state-level events, our shooters will lose their competitive edge,” he said.
Asked about the lack of a state-run lineup, Pankaj Nain, Director of Sports and Youth Affairs, Haryana, declined to comment.