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Mountaineering helps women deal with daily risks: Bachendri Pal

Sep 23, 2014

The risk involved in mountaineering prepares women for the risks they face in their daily life, says Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest.

Bachendri Pal

New Delhi: Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and Chief of the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF), in an interview at the launch of all-women-expedition to Tibet on September 13, said that Indian women need to develop a can-do attitude. Below are edited excerpts of her conversation with Ashok Kumar of OneWorld South Asia.

OneWorld South Asia: How has mountaineering empowered you as a woman?

Bachendri Pal: Mountaineering has given me the opportunity to discover myself and my hidden potential. When I started mountaineering, I was very uncertain about my skills and capabilities.

OneWorld South Asia: You are all set to lead a seven-member Indian women's mountaineering expedition to Kharta Valley in Tibet. What kind of positive message will it give to the society?

Bachendri: Every small drop contributes in making of an ocean. Mountaineering is also like a small attempt towards women empowerment. Today, girls are setting examples in every field.

Mountaineering, being a hardcore and risky sport, was known as a male dominated sport. Girls were considered incapable for adventure sports. Female mountaineers send a strong message to society and it can change the mindset of not only women but also of men.

OWSA: You mentioned the risk factor in mountaineering. How can it help women in dealing with the routine risks they face in their daily life?

Bachendri: The risk involved in mountaineering prepares women for the risks they face in their daily life. The biggest risk in life is not taking risks. If you take risks, you are more prepared for life.

If you engage yourself in such activities, your body language speaks positively, whether you walk on a street or on a railway platform. Those girls who take up such challenges, their confidence is very high.

OWSA: Tata Steel has supported a few girls in this expedition. How do you think corporates can give a fillip to such empowering activities?

Bachendri: The corporate sector can help women by setting up examples. Like in 1980s, when there was a lack of awareness about mountaineering, Tata Steel thought about forming a full-fledged department to support adventure sports and empower women like me.

Premlata Agrawal from Jharkhand who became the first Indian woman to climb all seven highest summits spread across seven continents is a result of such efforts.

Tata Steel Adventure Foundation teaches the team work as well as leadership skills to the aspiring mountaineers. Other organizations should be motivated by Tata Steel and come forward to take up responsibilities to promote it.

OWSA: Do you think that adventurous sports should be made compulsory for girls?

Bachendri: Adventurous sports should be made compulsory for both girls and boys. They should do it together as it will bring the feeling of equality.

A mountain doesn’t know whether you are girl or a boy. The conditions around us make a girl say that ‘I am a girl’ and ‘I can’t do’, ‘He is a boy and he can do that’. Mountaineering is not just about physical strength. Qualities like determination, willingness are equally important.

OWSA: How can adventurous expeditions boost women’s confidence in an environment where they face numerous challenges like sexual exploitation?

Bachendri: Courage, confidence and the can-do spirit can boost their confidence. The confidence will reflect wherever you go. Women should be given opportunities in unexplored areas.

Female mountaineers will set examples which will spread the message to one and all.

OWSA: How can mountaineering become an effective way to create awareness among people about environment conservation?

Bachendri: Environment cannot be promoted by talking about in air-conditioned rooms. It is only when you go there you observe the changes happening in Himalayan system. You also get to know how deforestation is taking place and the side effects of so-called development on hills and the surrounding environment.

When we go there, we realize how fast the glaciers are melting. Once upon a time, it was in Gangotri, now it has shifted to many kilometers behind. Thus you realize the gravity of the situation by actually being in those areas and not by cribbing about the environment in big cities.

OWSA: Nearly 30 years ago you climbed the Mount Everest. How do you feel when look back?

Bachendri: I really feel good. I had to face many problems before achieving that feat, but now it has become easier for the present generation. I want to clear the way for those women who want to do mountaineering. I don’t want them to face same problems which I faced.

During my time, even going for higher education was like climbing Mount Everest. People found it very strange that after doing MA and B Ed, I was doing mountaineering. It was also a challenge for me to come out from that mindset.

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