Spotlight On A Desi : Part 2

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.”

This is Part 2 of a three-part feature. Read first part here.

Q. Do you face much opposition to your blog posts and your outspoken views? How do you deal with this?

My Blog is fairly new and since I’m so busy with studies these days, I don’t really get a chance to update it as often as I’d like and thus publicize it. This is the reason I haven’t really faced any opposition to my blog posts yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. I have faced a lot of opposition to my “public” posts on Facebook regarding homosexuality. They’ve always been very Islam-centric, and talking to them at a time when I wasn’t too familiar with what the Quran said on these topics, wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I suppose it all turned out well since it made me do a lot more research and get familiar with what the Quran says and find more liberal interpretations of the only verse in the Quran that talks about homosexuality.

Q. Has there ever been a moment where your views placed you in danger or made you think of giving up? What are the main challenges and opposition LGBT activists face in Pakistan?

Interestingly enough, the only “death threat” I received was for talking against animal sacrifices carried out every year on Eid, in Muslim countries. I was posting against Eid sacrifices on an animal welfare forum and trying to offer alternatives to this tradition and talking about how the word “sacrifice” in the Quran has a much different meaning today than it did 1400 years ago and that it no longer has to include slaughtering animals. A person got upset and said that I should be handed over to the Taliban for slaughter, so that I could be taught a lesson. The person then rephrased and said, “the BAD talibans” (implying that there are supposedly GOOD talibans around too), which reduced me to hysterical laughter because it was pretty darn funny.

The main challenges LGBT activists face in Pakistan are religious and constitutional. Mainstream translations of the Quran are clear in their opposition towards homosexuality and sexual variance, and a vast majority of the people in this country follows such interpretations regarding other’s right and life, to a fault. This involves a certain lack of empathy and the concept of blind faith and total submission that I find absolutely terrifying and extremely detrimental.
Even if we put religion aside for a minute and just focus on the constitutional side of things, section 377 under the Pakistan Penal Code (1860) is extremely vague when it states, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.” Now here, the phrase “against the order of nature” hasn’t really been specified or defined. This law is more than 150 years old, and scientific progress and our knowledge of different facts regarding nature has completely transformed our understanding and the objective definition of what is “natural” and “unnatural” altogether. According to the scientific and moral progress humanity has made, sexual variance no longer fits the law defined by section 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, yet people continue to be punished under this law even today. Thus there is much need for the amendment of such vague laws that reinforce already existent prejudice in the minds of the masses.

Q. On the other hand, has there been a particular moment where you felt a sense of achievement in your activism which further encouraged you to continue your work?

Such moments are so very few, but they are strong enough to last a long time. One of my greatest achievements till now has been the presentation that caused four conservative girls to view homosexuality as normal. It may not seem like much, but in a country like Pakistan which does NOT view homosexuality in a positive light because everything revolves around mainstream interpretations of Scripture, convincing four people to view it in a different light was an incredibly huge achievement that diluted the negativity brought about by our authority figures.

I am also constantly motivated to carry on the fight for animal rights, every time someone comes forth to adopt an animal or considers spaying/neutering an animal under their care after I’ve had a talk with them.

Q.Do your friends know of your activism and have they been supportive?

A few of my friends are incredibly supportive of my activism, be it regarding animals rights, LGBT rights or religious minority rights. But most friends have grown up to think very differently and don’t support what I do much. I’ve had to let go of the ones who didn’t support my causes and mocked me for them. But I’m still in touch with some whose opinions differ from mine, and I often try to sneak in new facts and details supporting what I’m doing. I’m positive that they will come around one day.

Q.What does the future hold for you? What are your plans? Do you wish to stay in Pakistan to pursue your work in human rights or do you seek to move abroad?

I’m not much of a planner, but I do want to stay in Pakistan and use my degree in Psychology to pursue equal rights for all. I’ve never been a very ambitious person, so material things like status or a good post have never really held too much importance for me. Fighting for equality and justice though, that’s something that’s close to my heart. And who needs equality, justice and compassion more than Pakistan? It’s only logical that I stay here.

Q: You are also part of the “People for animal rights” group in Pakistan for which you have a Facebook page. How has the response to that been amongst your friends?

A: I’ve actually had to let go of many friends because of the lack of common interests, beliefs and values. I don’t blame them for not being able to accept, what I’m sure they see as, drastic changes in my personality and outlook on life. It’s just so much easier to find people similar to you at an age when you’re not even sure who you are exactly. But once you discover yourself , discover independence and grow into an individual, you find the people closest to you went through the same process but turned into people with a completely different ideology than your own. I don’t mind being around people who think differently, I actually prefer it. But I can’t stand people mocking and belittling my values and opinions, especially when these people are close friends and loved ones. It’s just very hurtful.

Q: You are part of the Pakistani Queer Movement (PQM). Do you think the slowly changing mindset in India (and gay-friendly Bollywood) will also impact hearts and minds in Pakistan when it comes to gay issues?

A: Aaah yes PQM, brilliant initiative by a very brave little soldier, one that I’m honored to be a part of. I think the slowly changing mindset in India would most definitely have a positive impact on the more liberal hearts and minds, ones who are more inclined to view things objectively rather than subjectively, in Pakistan when it comes to Gay Issues. But the uneducated, conservative and prejudiced masses might actually be affected in the exact opposite manner, just because India is propagating it. It’s incredibly shameful, but if we can’t admit it, we won’t ever be able to change anything.

End of Part 2. Please provide your feedback in the comments section and we’ll be sure to share it with Sadaf.

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An unapologetic romantic Rangeelidastan often spends her time dreaming and writing stories which could potentially become Bollywood movies. Living abroad in Australia she dreams of one day visiting Mumbai. She also likes to investigate and interview gaysis from the world over and learn new perspectives.

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