One may trail the other while scaling a mountain, yet they always step onto the summit together. “For it should never be the case later on in life that we had fought over who reached the summit first,” say twin sisters, Tashi and Nungshi Malik.

The 23-year-olds born to a Haryanvi father and Gorkha mother have just returned to India after scaling North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, taking their total score to six out of the world’s seven tallest peaks. As part of their ‘Mission2for7’ which is for the cause of the Indian girl child and to promote gender equality, they are due to climb Antarctica’s tallest peak in November.

“We will together climb the highest peaks on the seven continents to promote mountaineering as a sport and to save and empower the girl child,” states the brochure that the twins hand out at a press conference here on Monday. The younger one, Tashi, points out that children and even her own cousins prefer to play with gadgets rather playing out in the open.

Over the weekend, the twins addressed a large gathering of male villagers near their father’s village in Sonepat in a State that is notorious for its skewed sex ratio. “Men wearing the traditional turbans came to listen to my sister and I speak and we were surprised to find that they were encouraging and referred to us often as the daughters of the village,” says Tashi.

Nungshi, says they are often asked why they climb mountains. “People are always asking us what is the point in climbing mountains; it is not like there is a pot of gold sitting on the summit. Basically, it makes us move out of our comfort zone and we have discovered so much more about ourselves,” she says. “Serious mountaineering has always been a male forte and as young girls we have defied that stereotype. It is not just us but the people behind us who have made this happen.”

Both look over at their father, Virender Singh Malik, as the object of their inspiration. “Our father has always stood by our side and allowed us to achieve whatever we want”. Mr. Malik has his own story to tell. “I was born after three sisters and I remember very vividly a trip to Haridwar where my mother thanked the almighty that a boy was born to her. As I grew older, I noticed the preferential treatment for boys and I even started harbouring similar notions,” he says.

Yet, much later the Army officer went through a change in mindset and even married a woman his parents were not happy with and also decided not to have more children after his twin daughters were born. Now, he is his daughters’ “manager” elevated from “secretary” status, he jokes, looking after their every need before an expedition and arranging for finances. “Whether they slept on Mount Everest or not, I could not sleep a wink when they were away. I was very aware that I was the one who encouraged them to take this up,” he says.

With climbing expeditions taking a toll on his pocket, Mr. Malik stays up nights writing proposals to corporates, charitable trusts and government offices asking for funding for his daughters. “The good thing is they have been able to scale six peaks in the first attempt itself. At least, they did not waste my money,” he laughs. “But, the government has no policy on mountaineering at the moment which is causing a lot of problems. In some States, mountaineering comes under tourism and in others it is under sports. There is no clarity.”

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