When Mehjabeen Akhtar (26) thought of learning skiing in 2000, she faced the first resistance at her doorstep. Elder brother, Hilal Ahmed, didn’t want her to go out in track pants. But, later, Mehjabeen’s achievements inspired her brother to do a basic course in skiing in 2008.
Over the years, Mehjabeen has been instrumental in motivating scores of Muslim girls in the Valley to pursue the sport competitively. Being an instructor at the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports — and a good one at that — she has already created a buzz about the sport even among conservative families.
Today, more than 100 women come regularly to the institute and many of them have made their presence felt at the national and international arena.
“There was a time when you could hardly spot a girl on the ski slopes, but today a number of them have taken to the sport. During last week’s Gondola Cup and Global Derby in Srinagar, there were 30 female participants,” said Mehjabeen, who hails from Chi Chi Lora village, 25km from Srinagar.
Her passion for the sport even pushed marriage to the backseat. “As soon as girls in our village turn 18, they are married off. So, you can judge for yourself how much pressure I must have faced. But, now, my skiing achievements are the only thing my parents are worried about,” she said.
Mehjabeen became the first woman skier from the Valley to don India colours when she participated in the FIS Races in Turkey in 2007. After she made it to the national squad, three more have earned national colours.
“Last year, the four-member team for the Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan had two women — Masoda Akhtar and me — from Kashmir,” said Mehjabeen, who will receive the highest state honour, the Sher-e-Kashmir Award, this year.
Seventeen-year-old Hanya Zahra is a new star in the making. She was part of the Dream International Programme in Korea in 2009.
“Skiing is a passion for us now and I want to carve a future out of this,” said Hanya. “Being a costly sport, you cannot pursue it without family support,” added the Class 12 student.