13-year-old Indian Girl Reaches the Top of Everest

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 10:04 a.m. DST, 14 June 2014

"Steel Bridges of Everest Base Camp Trek" Photo by: ilkerenderTIBET--A 13-year-old Indian girl wept after overcoming her fears. Her fears differ a bit from most young girls. This girl, Poorna Malavath, the daughter of poor Indian farmers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, cried tears of joy after successfully climbing Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Her bravery and tenacity is incredible, especially since 16 Sherpa’s recently died in an avalanche, Everest’s deadliest ever, prompting the government to shut down the climbing season.

As the youngest female to climb Everest, she feels her victory is not only for herself but also for all young women, because “they tell us that we are nothing, that we can do nothing…but I know that I could do something, and I kept my eye on the goal, and now I made it.”

Though Nepal requires climbers to be at least 16 to scale the mountain, Malavath and her team of guides started from the northern side of Tibet, an area under control of China, which has no age restrictions. This side is considered significantly more difficult and dangerous, and in 2010 Jordan Romero, 13, of Big Bear, California became the youngest male to climb Everest, also from the Tibetan side. Before Malavath’s climb, the previous youngest woman to reach the top of Everest was Nepal’s Nima Chemji Sherpa, 16, in 2002.

She was sponsored by the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Educational Institution Society as part of its initiative to encourage underprivileged students in India. Most people in her hometown cannot read or write, and her town does not have internet or roads. Her parents are dalits, also known as “untouchable,” at the bottom of India’s caste system. Malavath attends a boarding school where she studies her native Telugu, Hindi, and English, and participates in track and field, volleyball, and kabaddi. Nine months ago she signed up for mountaineering training, a club where she would climb boulders and walls of an old fortress. Now she has reached the 29,029 foot top of the world’s highest peak after a 52-day expedition.

Though she had a few months of training, this expedition to Everest was her first mountain climb and along the way Malavath faced elevation sickness, temperatures of 40 degrees below zero and saw six dead bodies. A major challenge for Malavath was the packaged food she had to consume. “I did not like its smell or taste. I wanted to go home and eat my mother’s food,” she said. Despite being initially sent back to base camp for altitude sickness, she made it to the top before her 16-year-old friend, S. Anand Kumar.

India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi praised the duo on Twitter saying, “Was very happy to read this. Congrats to our youngsters. They make us truly proud.”

When she returns to school she will catch up on homework and she hopes to eventually join the police force, in homage to a retired policeman who introduced her and others at her school to mountaineering. When I finish my studies, I want to join the police because [of him]," she says. "It will be my thank-you to him for changing my life."

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

 

Honor Killings: When Bloodline and Bloodshed Intersect

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:49 a.m. DST, 2 April 2014

Santhal Tribal Lady, Photo by Ravi PratapANDHRA PRADESH, India - Pachala Deepthi tried her best to gain the blessing of her parents before marrying her sweetheart, Anantagiri Kiran Kumar. For over two years, Deepthi's appeals fell on deaf ears. The man she intended to marry was an unacceptable choice, and P. Hari Babu and Samrajyam refused to hear otherwise. Although Kiran Kumar worked at the same technology company as Deepthi, his position in the caste system spoke volumes to the concerned parents.

After years of failed lobbying, the longtime couple decided to marry without the approval of Hari Babu and Samrajyam. Even so, friends and coworkers celebrated the inter-caste wedding with a rite that took place in their Hyderabad office building. Deepthi told her parents of the plan prior to the February 21st ceremony, but Hari Babu and Samrajyam refused to attend. What followed was a family feud no less tragic than a Shakespeare classic.

Unlike the forlorn lovers in Romeo & Juliet, Deepthi would die at the hands of her own parents. While the initial anger of her kin was marked, Deepthi was contacted by her parents with the promise to make amends and sanctify the marriage in an official ritual. To say their request was disingenuous is a critical understatement. Hari Babu and Samrajyam used this opportunity to levy supposed justice against their daughter.

Their posturing proved effective. The middle-aged couple strangled their daughter, hanging her inside the family home in Andhra Pradesh. Police received a call from the bridegroom's friend, who had suspicions about the duo's real intentions. The man stayed near Deepthi's home, and witnessed her parents leaving the property without the young woman. Authorities can thank his reconnaissance efforts for the seizure of the two murderers, who had already made inroads in their escape from the southern state. The tip brought police to the scene quickly and sparked a manhunt for the couple, who were soon captured.

Not long ago, the couple could have avoided any prosecution, depending on their local court and the caste interests that it served. But the 2011 Supreme Court decision will keep perpetrators of so-called "honor killings" running from the law. Before that decisive ruling, those who participated in such killings faced a varying degree of punishment, depending on the local government. Historically, more conservative communities administered little punishment, if any at all. The result? A mild judicial response codified time-honored notions of caste and decorum. The recent verdict from India's highest court changes that. It establishes a zero-tolerance policy for these local agendas.

Now, Hari Babu and Samrajyam could face the death penalty, which before had been used only sparingly in the world's largest democracy. The expanded application of capital punishment is perhaps the biggest legacy of the Supreme Court's resolution. Although statistics show that the possibility of death does little to discourage lethal criminals, the new precedent sends a powerful message to the people who are willing to prop up tradition through vigilante violence. Similarly, it signals the limitations of the modern caste system.

The recent murder is only one of the high profile crimes against women in India. A few weeks ago, a Bollywood cosmetic designer attacked his girlfriend, lighting her on fire and killing her in Mumbai. In the beginning of 2014, a man beheaded an elderly woman who allegedly stole timber from him. And last year in New Delhi, the fatal gang rape of a young woman stirred international outrage.

The incident vaulted India's lenient rape penalties into the global conversation. Legislators responded to the atrocity with a law increasing victim rights and implementing harsher punishments for rapists. As a result, section 376A of the Indian Penal Code includes death penalty provisions where the victim is killed. Surely this action is a step in the right direction, but these baseline clauses are far from comprehensive.

There is never one single prescription to combat a social problem, but recent studies help illuminate the breadth of this issue. As a financially-independent woman with a budding career, Deepthi was already at a greater risk of domestic abuse and sexual assault, according to the research of Abigail Weitzman. Her study shows that successful women are targeted by predators at a significantly higher rate in India. Weitzman is a graduate student and researcher at New York University.

The progressive Supreme Court decision and new anti-rape laws are a multipronged plan to combat violence against women. That said, women in India must often follow a procession of apathy on their march to justice. Between the victims who are fearful to come forward, police under-reporting, and flaws in the current legal system, the true extent of abuses remain undisclosed. Sadly, in both India and the collective global community, the same is true: the number of actual assaults is exponentially higher than the statistics that reach the newsstand.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

The Rape of the Dalit

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:10 AM EDT, 3 May 2010

NEW DELHI, India - "Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls," said Smita Narula, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, the worldwide activist organization based in New York. Smita is author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables."

The heinous treatment of India's Untouchables is well documented and though the recent "human sacrifices" in the West Indian Bengal State are not related to caste system, it does highlight the issue  of poverty and illiteracy in Indian.  Police suspect that illiteracy and superstition led to the April 2010 decapitation sacrifice to the goddess Kali, when some of the poorest citizens conducted the sacrificial ritual in the hope of improving their position in society.

India's poor, especially the Dalit, are relegated to the lowest jobs, and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighborhood is a life-threatening offense.  According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), for the period of 2007-2008, the city of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh was the second most unsafe city for  women in India after Delhi. Gender violence is on the rise, and according to the latest statistics released by the NCRB, and the state of Andhra Pradesh had the worst record for crimes against women during this same period.

For this same time period which is the last year for which figures are available, 24,738 cases of crimes against women in India occurred.  This included 1,070 cases of rape, 1,564 cases of kidnapping and abduction, 613 cases of dowry death, and 11,335 cases of domestic violence in Andhra Pradesh. Basically, every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.

Thousands of preteen Dalit girls are forced into prostitution under cover of a religious practice known as Devadasis, which means a female servant of god." The girls are dedicated or "married" to a deity or a temple. Once dedicated, they are unable to marry, forced to have sex with upper-caste community members, and eventually sold to an urban brothel.

In August 2002, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) approved a resolution condemning caste or descent-based discrimination.  For more information about this appalling human right's abuse watch the video below.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOvU-Dwg-_Y]