November 21st, 2020
By Hamid Riaz
Nisha Rao, a transwoman in her late 20s shot to fame a few months ago when she became one of the first and perhaps the most successful practicing transgender lawyers of Pakistan.
Born in Lahore Nisha Rao grew up in confusion about her gender identity when she only a child studying in the 6th and 7th grades. She recalls being severely bullied by her classmates, “boys used to gather around me when I came to the school and shouted “Sharmeeli” to mock me,” she remembers.
Nisha states that when she initially came out her parents refused to accept her newly found gender identity. She was scorned by her family and severely harassed by her friends. Under such circumstances, Nisha took the difficult decision of leaving her house and moving to Karachi.
“When we were in intermediate I along with two of my friends decided to run away and shift to Karachi,” she said. “One of those friends later got a job in Dubai and is now well settled. But the other friend committed suicide in her early 20s.”
After coming to Karachi and trying to build a new life for herself Nisha was again confronted with deeply rooted bigotry. She had to beg and perform at wedding ceremonies merely to sustain herself.
“I think begging is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. People normally judge beggars, they are thrown in jail and mistreated. From experience, I can tell you that nobody begs by choice,” she confides.
Talking about her career she says that the unruly behavior of the police with citizens especially transgenders was what compelled her to become a lawyer. “Many khwajasirahs I have worked with complain of societal harassment and mistreatment by the police. The police have this preconceived notion that all transgender people are sex workers. So in most cases, they tend to ignore sex crimes against the trans community,” says Nisha.
The behavior of the police is bad but the biggest problem must be embedded prejudice in the legal structure itself. Sexual crimes against Transgenders are persecuted under Article 377, a crime of unnatural sex, while similar crimes against women are persecuted under article 376 and are termed rape. “I consider myself a woman and I believe that the law should treat me like one,” says Nisha.
Nisha has nothing but praise for the Sindh Committee Law Commission on Women’s Rights. Being its only transgender member she brings a unique perspective to the table and it is well appreciated. “It does not matter how complicated the case the law committee is always there to support me in my fight for trans rights,”
Nisha feels proud of the fact that as a transgender lawyer she will be able to vote in the bar elections slated for the 28th of November. But her aim is far bigger. “I want to be Pakistan’s first transgender judge,” says Nisha. “And through my platform “The Trans Pride Society” I want to help people like me. I want to make an old house for transgenders. Because most of us live without a family when someone gets old there is no one to take care of us. I’ll feed, clothe and take care of my people” exclaims Nisha.