Can you remember what your proudest achievement was at age 13?
While we would always argue that personal achievements are relative – for one person conquering social anxiety may be far more demanding than conquering Mount Everest for another – there’s no doubt that 13-year-old Malavath Poorna has achieved something extraordinary.
On 25th May 2014, Malavath scaled the highest peak of Mount Everest, becoming the youngest woman ever to have done so. What’s more, she reached the highest point on earth by climbing the mountain’s more difficult Tibetan side, as opposed to the relatively more easier Nepalese side, which is closed to climbers under the age of 16.
Such an achievement makes a mockery of the discriminatory labelling and classification of human beings into categories based on grounds of gender, class, caste, ethnicity, sexuality and so on. Not only is Malavath female (gasp), she also ‘belongs’ to India’s lowest caste, the Dalits or ‘untouchables’. Malavath therefore belongs to two of the most discriminated-against groups in the country.
The perception that because Malavath is female and from a Dalit community she is somehow less human than others, less capable than others – ‘untouchable’ even – would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious issue. But hundreds of thousands of people across India from Dalit communities face discrimination and are denied basic human rights like education. Even today, around 37% of people from Dalit communities survive on less than $2 a day and 45% are illiterate.
Much is being made in the media of Malavath’s origins and Malavath herself is rightfully proud of her achievement given the social and economic challenges she has had to overcome to realise it: “The aim of my expedition was to inspire young people and students from my kind of background” she says, in an interview with The BBC. “For a tribal like me, opportunities are very rare and I was looking for one opportunity where I could prove my calibre.”
The challenge for us, then, is to help remove the barriers that prevent people like Malavath from achieving their potential, whatever that potential may be. These barriers are both real and superficial. The real barriers such as the lack of basic requirements including education, nutrition and so on can be overcome if we all take responsibility for doing our bit to support poor and marginalised people and communities.
The superficial barriers like caste and gender, while very real in the restrictive force they impose, can begin to be overcome by recognising achievements like that of Malavath’s as ‘human’ rather than ‘Dalit,’ and of course in removing these superficial barriers we also take an important step towards tackling the ‘real’ barriers as well.
In recognition of Malavath’s extraordinary achievement, why not make a donation to a vetted and verified NGO project on LetzChange and help support marginalised people and communities in India.
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