Rizwana Khan Saifi, who hails from a poor family, has opted and pursued her career in mountaineering against all odds. Her life’s dream is to go down in the history as the first hijabi Indian mountaineer to conquer Mount Everest.
Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India
Moving a step closer to her dream of scaling Mount Everest, Rizwana Khan has conquered Mount Dangmachan after covering a distance of 5,158 metres in Himachal Pradesh on 25 September 2022.
She started the trek on 19 September despite facing turbulence climate and hailstorms twice on her way to the peak.
Rizwana, the second among her six siblings, is inspired by Kalpana Chawla, the woman who travelled to space. If Chawla can reach space, why can’t she conquer the mountains? She asks this question to herself.
In 2013, at the age of 18, she bagged the Best Endurance Award in her first year of training at Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports, Jammu and Kashmir. Later, she told her father that she wanted to pursue mountaineering in the future and wanted to scale Mount Everest. He agreed without any resistance, and ever since is supporting her at every small step she takes towards realise her dream.
Rizwana’s father Intezar Ali Saifi, who used to work as a mechanic in a bag factory, would leave his job to accompany Rizwana whenever she had to go for mountaineering events. Not only her father but also her younger brothers took up small-time jobs to make ends meet since their father had to quit his job to help Rizwana achieve her goal.
But all this didn’t stop her from moving towards her goal. She kept on moving in the direction of the peak and, eventually, reached the destination on 25 September and hoisted the Indian flag.
A daughter’s dream, father’s faith 25-year-old Rizwana Khan Saifi has scaled several mountains. Now, her dream is to conquer Mount Everest and become the first Indian Muslim woman to do so, but the paucity of resources at her disposal is coming in her way to achieve her goal.
Rizwana received her initial training from the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports, Jammu and Kashmir from 2013 to 2016 while staying in the academy, but since it was getting difficult for her to meet her expenses, she had to leave the academy and return her home in the Pilkhwa district of Hapur in Uttar Pradesh.
But Rizwana’s grit, determination and willpower didn’t end with the training. She continued her practice in her town with all the available resources.
Her Courage of Conviction
She and her family faced a lot of criticism from their relatives in particular and the community in general for pursuing a career in mountaineering. In the eyes of her critics, mountaineering is not an ideal career choice for a girl, and by going for it she is bringing shame to the community.
Time and again she was reminded that she is a girl, and hence should not think beyond what she is supposed to as a girl by society.
“They used to tell my father, ‘why are you giving so much freedom to her? She is not a boy, but a girl, and you should not give her many wings’,” recalls Rizwana.
“They used to tell me that I was bringing shame to their names. ‘This is not what you should do! Girls don’t indulge in such activities. What will you get by running on streets or climbing mountains?”
They even advised her father to marry her off as, according to them, a girl is someone else’s asset and they should reach ‘their home’, as soon as possible. ‘The sooner she is at her home, the better,’ they would say.
Rizwana and her family, however, paid little heed to such admonitions and her father, who she says is an inspiration for her, always encouraged, supported and appreciated her for her choice, activities and achievements.
He calls his daughter his pride and keeps himself ready to do anything within his capacity to help her achieve her goals.
Rizwana, who sounds clear in her vision and commitment to her ambition, pays little to no attention to such people, but only believes in her dream and hard work.
She says, “I never get distracted by any such discouragement. But it’s a given that whenever someone tries to achieve something, people try to drag them down. But I must say their role is important too as it makes my determination to achieve my goal even stronger.”
“One day, they all will stand by me and congratulate me and that will be the day when I achieve my dream, until then I will only focus on my work and not them,” she added.
Over the years since 2013, Rizwana has taken part in several competitions and tournaments for which she has received appreciation and awards including a Bronze and Silver medal at the 1st and 4th Wushu Sports Federation and Sports Championship.
Among her accomplishments are completing a track of 6,135 meters at Mount Stock Kangdi in 2013, 6,125 meters of Mount Golf Kangdi in the same year, and unfurling the Indian flag there.
Apart from these, she has completed a track of 5,289 meters at the Mount Friendship peak expedition Summit in 2020 and 12,500 feet at Kedarkantha track Summit in 2021 and unfurled an Indian flag of 112 feet.
She has also completed a track of 6,111 meters at Mount Yunam Peak Expedition Summit in July 2021.
In her most recent accomplishment, after completing a track of 5158 metres, she scaled Mount Dangmachan located in Himachal Pradesh on September 25. Leaving the traces of India on the peak, she also hoisted the Indian tricolour on reaching the mountain peak.
Rizwana has also been conferred a sports award by Delhi Minority Commission in 2021.
A mountain to climb before the Mount Everest
Through her consistent practice and determination, she managed to represent her town, district, and state on many platforms, but now she is finding it difficult to manage it all alone.
Two of her brothers run a shop, but that’s not enough to run a house of nine people and support her dream.
“My father and family have done a lot for me, but now it is becoming difficult for them to take me forward, but I can’t see my years of hard work and dream getting shattered,” she said.
Many governments came and went and appreciated her talent, but none cared to give wings to her dreams.
Some of them even promised to provide the funds required to pursue her dreams, but never returned to her. She tried to reach out to them, but to no avail.
“I tried to meet local political leaders and parties, but all they have to say is that we will see if our party forms government in the next election,” she bemoans.
For a moment her determination seemed to shake a bit as she asked, “Is it that difficult for the poor to dream and dare to achieve them?”
“Government assures women empowerment, but will this poor woman ever get empowered?” she said alluding to herself.
But the very next moment, regaining her composure, she came round to her dream, and said, “I want to reach Everest, I will, one day. I will unfurl the tricolour of my nation at Everest peak and will bring all the laurels to the country by becoming the first Hijabi Muslim Mountaineer of the country.”
As regards academics, Rizwana has completed her graduation in Home Science from Impact Science Degree College in Rampur through distance education. Now, she is looking forward to pursuing BTC. She is popular as a ‘Hijabi Mountaineer’ among her fellow students at college and friends.
She also has a YouTube channel, where she documents her journey as a mountaineer. She says, “one day my journey will be the content for history books”.