Editor’s note: In our New Year post, we promised to bring new views and stories from our brethren in the subcontinent, outside India. A new contributor, Rangeelidastan interviews Sadaf Mujeeb, a young Pakistani activist and straight ally, exclusively for Gaysi Family. Sadaf describes herself as a rights activist which “includes but is not limited to, Human Rights; LGBT rights, religious and ethnic minority rights, and women rights, and of course non-human animal rights”. Rangeelidastan says, “Despite the numerous pressures Sadaf has had to face, she is steadfast in her support for LGBT rights. Her determination to do what is right and change mindsets through facts and reasoning are inspirational for all LGBT/human rights activists everywhere.”
Here’s part 1 of our three-part feature.
Q: Sadaf, your bravery and courage in boldly speaking out about controversial issues, such as LGBT, minority rights and animal rights in Pakistan is very inspiring to all human rights and LGBT activists not only in Pakistan and India but throughout the Indian subcontinent. First of all, I would like to ask you about your blog which touches upon a number of these issues. What motivated you to speak out about LGBT, minority and animal rights, rather than be a passive observer as many of us are in the subcontinent?
Ans: Wow, that’s a tough one. I really don’t think I could pin point the exact time or event in my life that made me want to fight specifically for human rights (even though I can totally do that for animal rights), but I do remember that I always felt a lot of empathy for the underdog from a very young age. Maybe it was because I myself was bullied for a very short time at the age of 9 for being over-weight and since I was always an “over-sensitive” child, that left a strong impression on me. Or maybe it was just that I’ve always been a bit of an “old soul” as my friends used to call me, and never found stuff like someone tripping and falling over terribly hilarious, even if it was a person I wasn’t too fond of. I’ve just always been able to relate to the underdog.
For the longest time in high school I would get infuriatingly upset and stressed over a girl in my class being bullied by 49 other girls. I was never targeted, not even for standing up for her, because I had friends and I suppose was well-liked or didn’t give them enough of an opportunity to pick on me on account of being boringly similar to them. I just hated that they picked on her and it boggled my mind that the girls I was friends with, who were otherwise sweet, kind and compassionate would join in on the laughter and teasing while she cried at the hurtful remarks and incessant mockery. I never understood how people could relate so easily to the pain of their friends and family, yet turn a blind eye to the same pain felt by a stranger. To me, pain was pain, and it should be reacted to in the same manner, irrespective of who was feeling it. So I suppose that frustration grew as the years went by, and now here I am, unable to shut up when I come across someone being bullied, being wronged or being ganged up against. Now it’s an obsession.
Also, since we all know genetics aren’t everything, I believe the rest of my personality comes from my environment and my mother. My mother is an amazing woman who has spent her entire life trying to teach me by example. My mother taught me how to think, not what to think, and for this I will be forever grateful to her. She is one of my biggest supporters in all my fights. She has the kindest heart and even though she didn’t always have such a positive opinion of homosexuality specifically, once I gave her my perspective on human rights (specifically LGBT rights) with regards to psychology, biology and just basic humanity, she was completely turned around regarding these realties and now educates her friends on these topics. She always discourages people from spouting hatred and educates people on what homosexuality is really all about whenever she comes across those who seem to be blinded by the prejudice that arises from ignorance.
The simplest words in which I can explain my belief though, is through a quote by George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The minority is sometimes right, but the majority is ALWAYS wrong”. I think he was spot on.
Q. I am sure there are many who subconsciously feel that change needs to come in both our countries on these issues. But few of us actively seek that change, as many of us sit back and relax hoping someone else will do the hard work. Others feel helpless and wonder if substantial change is possible but developments in the past few years should give us hope. Have you ever faced these doubts and what has motivated you to keep going despite them?
Ans: Many people actually think that just sitting at home and writing a blog is ineffective too, and even if that’s true (which I don’t think it is), many of us don’t know what else we can do. We can write, we can publicize, we can comment, we can argue, we can engage people in debates and we can raise awareness. Most of the people don’t even know about many of the issues our society faces because everything is a taboo these days. You can’t question religion, because it’s disrespectful. You can’t talk about sexual harassment, because that’s inappropriate. You can’t talk about sexual orientation, because no one really knows anything about it other than the fact that they’ve been told that it’s “sinful”. And you most definitely can’t talk about animal rights, because let’s face it, they were never suppose to have any. And them not having rights make our lives pretty easy. I feel trapped in this society sometimes because I don’t know what route to take to make a difference. Setting the whole “fear for life” thing aside, there is too much moral corruption to even sift out right from wrong. Renowned private educational institutions dole out extremely biased and discriminatory lectures on SCIENTIFIC subjects like Psychology, a discipline based on objectivity and empirical evidence. I’m often overwhelmed by these truths and feel insignificant in the face of such deep-rooted hypocrisy and prejudice. But these realizations always result in frustration-driven anger, which fortunately is my motivation.
Q. What inspired you to take up the issue of human rights, particularly gay rights? Do you know any gays and lesbians in Pakistan and what is the environment like for them? Do you feel today’s generation is more open minded than previous generations?
Ans: I’ve always had a rather high level of empathy for as long as I can remember. I suppose the idea of not saying or doing something when you know what’s happening around you is wrong, especially when someone else is suffering as a direct result of the wrongdoing, had always seemed extremely preposterous to me.
I do know quite a few gay people in Pakistan now, but I’ve been a firm believer in their rights even before I knew any. I myself have always been gender blind, so I suppose it was easier for me to relate to people falling in love with and/or being attracted to members of the same sex. I never really saw the “haw” factor in that. I mean, all that talk about “inner beauty” and “loving the person and not the face” to me, stretched beyond just “beauty”. I’ve always fallen in love with people, not what was or wasn’t between their legs.
The sexual variant people in Pakistan, the ones I know at least, are incredibly strong-minded, humble and most importantly, fearless. Especially considering how incredibly difficult, almost impossible, this society has made for them to “come out” without their lives being put at risk. One of my good friends, Nuwas Manto, the owner of PQM (Pakistan Queer Movement) and a fellow activist was brave enough to come out to his family at the age of 17, and now, 3 years down the line, his family is still struggling to come to terms with it, and continues to hope for that he will find the “right girl” who will pull him out of his “phase”. Nuwas is only twenty years old. Imagine spending the first quarter of your life fighting for your right to be considered human! Imagine fighting for this right in a society that treats you like a contagious disease, wrong and “sinful”. Imagine your own family not being able to support you in your fight or sooth your self esteem by considering you to be perfect just the way you are. I can’t imagine it. Because it’s impossible to imagine being on the receiving end of such cruelty unless you’ve been subjected to it. There is nothing sadder and more heart breaking than a healthy, beautiful person being made to question their self worth based on something they have absolutely no control over.
It is incredibly difficult to remain as poised and calm as my LGBT brothers and sisters have managed to keep in the face of such excessively institutionalized homophobia. My respect and admiration for the peacefulness and patience of the LGBT community in Pakistan knows no bounds. I idolize their courage and their resilience and will continue to do so and fight alongside them always.
Today’s generation may be more open-minded as compared to the previous generation with respect to the fact that they might consider “death” to be an inappropriate punishment for homosexuality. But sadly, it is also true that today’s generation is just as ignorant as the previous one and a lot more dangerous because along with being ignorant, it is also fed the wrong information as fact by “experts”. So where death is thought to be an disproportionate punishment for homosexuality, people now believe that “professional help” is most definitely a more suitable option for people who’re afflicted with this so called “mental disorder”.
End of Part 1. Please provide your feedback in the comments section and we’ll be sure to share it with Sadaf.