Almost untouched by modernity, it’s a break from tradition for this eighth century temple located in the inner reaches of Almora. Barring the locals and a handful of foreigners, who come to the nearby Ram Ganga for fishing, hardly anyone visits the temple in this lush green district of Uttaranchal.
But for the last three months, this place of worship, run by the village panchayat and surviving on meagre donations, is witnessing an activity never seen before in this belt. Even as the bells toll and the priest recites slokas, some 20-odd teenagers train their air pistols on targets barely a few metres away.
The Rudreshwar temple authorities (it includes just the priests and a few trustees) have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the youngsters of this tiny village, which survives on cattle grazing and farming, do not fall prey to drugs and alcohol. Besides, they also want them to hone their skills so that it translates into employment opportunities with the Army’s Boys Sports Company (BSC).
“There was tremendous response when we set about spreading word about the shooting camp,” said KD Akolia, one of the trustees. “We distributed pamphlets and visited areas in the 50 km radius. Initially, people thought we were recruiting for the BSC. We clarified we were only facilitating their chances by imparting training,” said Akolia, adding that more than 250 boys and quite a few girls appeared for the trials.
“We set Army parameters for the selections and finally zeroed in on 15 boys and five girls. They have been training for the last two-and-a-half months and are now ready to face the stiff BRC tests later this month,” he said.
The practice at the makeshift shooting range has indeed started to yield results. “Some of them are shooting exceptionally well,” said coach, Arvind Tomar, a former national shooter. Polio-stricken and measuring just four feet, Tomar walks with the help of a stick.
“This is a drug belt and children as young as 10 years fall prey, so shooting has given them hope for a decent future and they realise this. Although the temple authorities cannot afford to give them more than a few pellets a day, at least a start has been made,” said Tomar, who also comes from an underprivileged background and earns a mere Rs 1,500 per month for imparting training.
“I was filled with emotion when a 12-year-old boy, Himanshu Rikhari, walked from a village 30 km away for the trials. We have children from places where even buses are a luxury. The boys have shown tremendous promise and I’m sure some of them will be recruited to the 11th Gorkha Rifles Boys Sports Company in Lucknow,” he said.
“The temple doesn’t get much by way of cash, so the parents of the wards chip in by providing vegetables, pulses, flour, etc. The evenings are reserved for prayers and the boys then retire to the dormitory,” said Akolia. Deepak Rawat, the 14-year-old son of a typist, hoped this would be a “new beginning” for him. “I am looking forward to the BRC’s recruitment drive. Who knows, someone from amongst us can go on to become a Jaspal Rana,” he said.
The trust is planning to attract a bigger pool of youngsters next year. “Even if just one marksman from this current lot gets into the BRC, our efforts would have borne fruit,” said Akolia.
A decade ago, a village in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, had set out on a similar mission. Today, it has produced a rich crop of national and international shooters and sent more than 40 wards to the BSC.
An experiment indeed worth emulating!