Long before Roopa Ganguly hit bullseye as Draupadi in B R Chopra’s TV series Mahabharat, she had learned to aim right thanks to the quintessential Kolkata hawkers (part of the cityscape right up to the 1980s) who roamed the streets with a board of balloons, sundry other targets and a rusty rifle for target practice.
That is why, when Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu made a statement last week, during a discussion on the Arms (Amendment) Act, that women “don’t need arms”, Ganguly, a BJP MP, shot back: “I enjoy shooting.”
What started as an after-school dash for the heavy, rusty guns that the hawkers carried, graduated to systematic target practice in a Howrah farmhouse, and the eventual ownership of an air rifle.
“It all began because my uncle, with whom I used to stay in Kolkata, did not bring me up as a girl; I was one of the boys, changing the battery water, doing small electrical repairs. Then I fell in love with shooting during my visits to my aunt’s place in Ballygunge. I would time my visits to when the hawkers came calling,” says Ganguly, going on to talk about her childhood “shooting sprees” in the South Kolkata neighbourhood, her trips to Marine Drive after pack-up during the Mahabharat days and then how, as destiny would have it, she married into a family which too loved guns.
“My father-in-law has a gun, and he was very encouraging. We used to go to our farmhouse to practice. To ensure that the bullets did not ricochet, we would hit at targets placed in a mound of sand. I got so involved in the sport that I even bought my own air rifle. I used to shoot till very recently, even after my son grew up,” the 53-year-old says.
Under the new Act, owners of air rifles too have to apply for a licence, and Ganguly says she is still to do so.
In 2010, Ganguly was among the celebrities the CRPF took to a camp in Jammu. Recalling the thrill of handling an AK-47, she says, “When I told them I love shooting and have a decent aim, they took all of us to the practice range and gave us a few rounds to shoot. We shot in the single-shot mode and I hit the target every time — the head, behind the ear, on the chest. They were very impressed. That is why I said in Parliament that shooting is fun, it is a sport, not a weapon of political vendetta like in West Bengal.”
While arguing that women don’t need weapons, Naidu had said, “Others will try to protect you.” Apart from Ganguly, one other woman MP got time to speak on the arms legislation that was introduced in Parliament on December 10 and passed the same day due to lack of time.
Ganguly, who is otherwise known to speak her mind, is willing to let Naidu’s remark pass. “You know, time was running out, the minister had to reply. He (Naidu) makes jokes, talks in rhymes. He was just trying to get the speeches done quickly. There were two women, he must have thought it would not be fair to allow one to speak and deprive the other. So he said that. I do not see anything else (in his remark). As a disciplined member of the party, I would willingly make way for the minister’s speech.”
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