By Farhan Janjua
But who is she and what does she have to do with Ayesha? Well, Maria is Ayesha Gulalai’s sister.
She has been in the news before mainly because she’s the girl who defied tribal frowning upon women playing sport and went on to become a professional squash player.
After Ayesha, it’s Maria who’s been at the receiving end of trolling on social media – some of which is severe enough to tantamount to cyber bullying and harassment.
Maria first made it to the news in 2013 when her inspiring story of how she disguised as a boy just so she could continue her squash training went viral and was featured on international media.
"I was born in Waziristan, Pakistan, a remote region commonly referred to as the ‘most dangerous place on earth’. Girls rarely go to school and certainly don’t place sports. But, I grew up differently from other girls. At the age of four, I burnt all her dresses, cut my hair, put on my brother’s clothes and began to live life as a boy. My father, a strong advocate for equal rights and opportunities for men and women, pushed tradition aside and allowed me to live disguised in order to flourish as an athlete. When I was 12 years old, still disguised as a boy, I was ranked #2 in all of Pakistan for weightlifting in the junior division. Then I discovered squash. When the local squash academy in Peshawar required a birth certificate, my true identity was revealed. Fortunately the director shared the same values as my father and handed me a racquet," Maria’s quote as featured on her website.
Soon after her secret was outed, Maria and her family started receiving death threats from Taliban making it impossible for her to continue competing. This is when she was restricted to the bounds of her home.
Instead of giving up, Maria kept training on the walls of her own bedroom while writing for sponsorship to squash clubs abroad. She is quoted as saying she sent thousands of emails to squash clubs and other relevant groups and individuals who could sponsor her and facilitate her moving out of the country.
Then there was finally a breakthrough. Maria was invited by Jonathan Power who has held titles including “World Number 1” in squash to train with him in Toronto. She hasn’t looked back since then.
While still living and training in Canada, Maria now ranks 83rd in the world and still plays for Pakistan. She said in an interview that she wants to win big titles for Pakistan.
Maria describes her struggle with these words on her website: "Most of the time when I reflect on my life, I don’t believe it. I was born a regular tribal girl unable to leave the house and today I am a professional squash player. My family has been my greatest support. My father’s love, friendship and teachings helped me navigate through a world of oppression. Even Taliban death threats couldn’t stop me. Today I am happy and living my dream. I overcame fear and didn’t compromise. I am stronger than ever before and more determined to bring positive change to the world through education, sports and healthcare."
The political circles in Pakistan and trolls both online and offline continue to present a disturbing picture by bringing Maria Toorpakai into it and attacking her for how she dresses. Fawwad Chaudhry and others should know, they are only making it worse by continuing these attacks. Maria Toorpakai Wazir is and will remain a pride for Pakistan.