The final part of the Tashi and Nungshi interview.

Has gender ever been an obstacle in achieving any challenge?

Tashi: Although it has worked in several subtle ways, but we haven’t been particularly affected in seriously negative ways. Again, having your twin by the side is such a huge advantage, especially in gender issues. At the beginning of an expedition, some male members were visibly skeptical of having girls in the team and wondered whether we would not weaken the chances of success.

Nungshi: In pursuit of mountaineering, we have actually outperformed most men in our expeditions, and won their grudging admiration and respect. In such life threatening adventures, team bonding is strong and feeling of ‘being in the same boat’ so ‘we row together or sink together’ that also keeps potential gender issues from playing out.

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Tell us more about the “Beti Bachao” campaign you are part of.

Nungshi: On one hand, we will continue to promote gender equality in India. For this we have started ‘NungshiTashi Foundation’ with twin objective of promoting mountaineering as a sport and to empower girls through mountaineering and outdoor adventure.

Tashi: Gender discrimination and female feticide is a complex and deep rooted socio-cultural phenomena in our country that requires extra-ordinary efforts to eliminate. Plus it needs cooperation and involvement of multi-stakeholders. This will remain our key agenda for future, which we intend to execute through our foundation. We will use all forms of media to spread awareness and to lobby with governments, corporate and civil society to effectively implement policies and projects on girl empowerment.

Nungshi: Despite a ‘shining India’ image being built in recent years, we are ranked extremely low on HDI. One very serious socio-economic phenomenon affecting many parts of India is the rampant practice of ‘female feticide’ as a result of parents’ overwhelming preference for son over daughter. The situation has alarming negative repercussions such as in dad’s native state of Haryana where there are only about 861 females for every 1000 males!To address this malice, Govt of India launched this campaign to focus attention and resources of all stakeholders on promoting and protecting rights of girl child. Due to our excellent credentials our state govt nominated us as brand ambassadors for the campaign. We must say, we have been able to make a huge positive impact with our achievements as well as with our talks at public appearances.

Tashi: Our father was born after four daughters! He often recalls how he was treated like a ‘special gift from heavens’ and was given preferential treatment in food, work, leisure and education. Dad also grew up with same desire for son, but he says our birth slowly transformed him, despite initial disappointment and determination to go in for more children until he had a son. Finally to avoid giving into the temptation, full credit to him for taking a very courageous step to undergo vasectomy within two years of our birth! Due to these credentials, we felt that our story will inspire many and will make a huge difference to the cause of the girl child in India.

Listening to him and later researching about this social evil, we feel the pain of the blatant and epidemic violation of our girls’ human rights Many parents, especially in rural India still consider boys as the only off springs. The girl child is caught in a vicious cycle of feticide & infanticide, denial-exclusion-malnutrition-lack of education-domestic work and eventual economic dependence on the male. Right from her birth (that is, if at all she’s fortunate to be born!), our girl child has numerous ‘Mountains to climb’ to merely survive. And even more to realize her potential and full human rights. We stand solidly with her and pledge to use all our resources to help her earn her rightful and equal place in the society. Let the world realize that ‘Girl child is a human being first always and every time’!

What are your further plans in spreading gender equality?

This idea was a product of our background and our being twin girls. Interestingly, we have roots in one of the most conservative rural areas of Northern India (Haryana) with one of the worst sex ratios and heinous gender violence. This is due to overwhelming desire to have at least one son at all cost and consequent widespread phenomenon of female feticide. Our father was born after four daughters! He often recalls how he was treated like a ‘special gift from heavens’ and was given preferential treatment in food, work, leisure and education. Dad also grew up with same desire for son, but he says our birth slowly transformed him, despite initial disappointment and determination to go in for more children until he had a son. Finally to avoid giving into the temptation, full credit to him for taking a very courageous step to undergo vasectomy within two years of our birth! Due to these credentials, we felt that our story will inspire many and will make a huge difference to the cause of the girl child in India.

Listening to him and later researching about this social evil, we feel the pain of the blatant and epidemic violation of our girls’ human rights Many parents, especially in rural India still consider boys as the only off springs. The girl child is caught in a vicious cycle of feticide & infanticide, denial-exclusion-malnutrition-lack of education-domestic work and eventual economic dependence on the male. Right from her birth (that is, if at all she’s fortunate to be born!), our girl child has numerous ‘Mountains to climb’ to merely survive. And even more to realize her potential and full human rights. We stand solidly with her and pledge to use all our resources to help her earn her rightful and equal place in the society. Let the world realize that ‘Girl child is a human being first always and every time’!

Tashi: They say “Seeing is believing”. By our world record feats in mountaineering-an area demanding extreme physical and mental capabilities and very high degree of risks, we want to show that girls can compete on equal footing with men even in areas traditionally seen as ‘men’s forte’.

And by this, we want to shatter some of the stereotypes about girls.

By our achievements and the consequent media interest, we want to send the message of gender equality and the fight against female feticide. Additionally, we deliver gender related talks at schools and social forums to directly appeal to parents and stakeholders to change their ‘angle of vision’ and see the girl child as a most trusted source of love, joy, progress, and strength.

We also plan to design T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars and other utility souvenirs with gender themes to spread awareness and pride in the girl child.

We will use our personal Website and blogs to focus attention on this issue of extreme urgency and relevance for the good of our people and country. It is simple: India cannot realize its full potential as long as its girls and women cannot realize theirs!

Nungshi: And such feat being done by two young sisters is even more dramatic and impactful. This is borne out by the fact that we receive thousands of messages of support on social media from parents, boys and girls. We invariably talk on gender issues in all our motivation talks and public appearances. It’s for no reason that just recently, we have been made the Brand Ambassadors of our state for India’s high profile BetiBachao-BetiPadhao’ (protect girl child-educate girl child) campaign. Our life is becoming our message! And this is just the beginning. Our dream project ‘Nungshi-Tashi Foundation’ is in the final stages of being registered. We wish to use all our energies for girl empowerment through this foundation aimed at creating meaningful livelihoods for girls through outdoor adventure and mountaineering. Once started, we will involve interested folks from India and abroad through memberships and projects to share our dream and bring about sustainable empowerment of girls, especially in remote mountainous regions of India.

What is your opinion on women taking on such challenges?

T: Serious mountaineering is as much about mental robustness as about physical strength. And it is not about pitching a woman against a man in a physical contest. It is about perseverance under extreme odds. In extreme mountaineering, there’s a thin line between life and death. Every time climbers go into the mountains, they put themselves at risk. Both men and women climbers face the same challenge. In this sense we certainly do not see it as male forte. Yes, few biological peculiarities such as ‘menses’ may make it more challenging at times.

N: This is where we see gender stereotypes at play! Agreed that more men pursue this sport and most of the ‘first ascents’ are in their name. But we see this as a product of gender discrimination against women though the ages. Outdoors and physically dangerous sports are considered ‘men’s forte’ and with such social conditioning, girls are rarely encouraged in this sport. We have found mountaineering particularly favourable to women as they are mentally and emotionally very strong and biologically better placed to survive in extreme cold. On average, we have performed better than most male climbers in our teams!

Check out their campaign at http://www.nungshitashi.org/

Message for the readers

We have been taught to follow our passion and our dreams by our parents. And we life has taught us is that if you follow your dream with all the commitment it takes, you will succeed. It may take its time and may be tested your limits many times over, but if you persevere you will eventually realize your dream. In this process, no matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. We recollect Ratan Tata’s statement on his incredible entrepreneurial success in life, “Indian people have thousands of ideas but do not act on them, I had just one idea and I implemented it’.

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