KARACHI: “I want you to understand that this is a safe space for anyone to come and say what they want to say. This is Sabeen’s legacy,” said an emotional Marvi Mazhar at the end of the Aks Festival in Karachi at T2F on Monday.
The four-day festival drew to a close with the screening of a few short films and with a performance by transgender activists Kami and Bobby.
“This was more than just a festival for me,” she said, “When it first started, I didn’t [believe] it would survive. It’s not just for the transgender community, we saw all kinds of people here and we got a lot of support from them. Maybe that support is easy to give here but not outside.”
“This performance was an expression of our love,” she said, “We tried to show the true colours of our community through it. We hide our pain and suffering behind the colours of our performance.”
She said transgender people were often stereotyped as resorting to dance or commercial sex work for it’s easy and paid well. “Most people from the community turn towards it because they’re uneducated and also because not a lot of organisations were willing to give them employment. One has to be very desperate in order to turn to dance or commercial sex work and even then they could barely make ends meet through it.”
Speaking about holding the same festival in Copenhagen, festival organiser Saadat said: “In Copenhagen, the focus is on tackling the fear mainstream society has of people of colour. We try to create a dialogue through each film. We experimented by showing them some Bollywood films with a queer perspective, even though those films might be heteronormative such as ‘Dedh Ishqiya’. It has some characters from Ismat Chugtai’s novel ‘The Quilt’ and that helps us show literature in Pakistan that depicts a lot of sexual freedom.”
Each festival held throughout the country had a slightly different theme to it. “In Lahore, our focus was more with the Punjabi Khawaja Sirah community,” he related, “In Islamabad, it was more on the international aspect of queer and transgender communities outside Pakistan.”
The organisers did not feel threatened at all while holding the festival. Saadat was very clear about why that was the case. “We try not to work against anything,” he explained, “We try to keep it more focused on human rights and transgender rights oriented. Plus we’re talking about an existing minority in the country.”
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2016