For Bindiya Rana, it was the death of a friend which opened her mind to enter politics.
“I never really cared about politics of the country. Never,” she says while talking with The News at the office of Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) Pakistan.
In the summer of 2004, a member of her transgender community had died after a short illness in Karachi. The community elders (Gurus) decided to send her body to her hometown in Punjab.
“We had arranged the airfare from Karachi to Lahore and all the other requisite documents,” Rana recalls, “but I was shocked at the behaviour of the authorities.”
She reached the police station sobbing, only to find a police officer grinning at her. The officials passed indecent remarks about her dead friend – that too with considerable relish.
“They asked what my friend was doing when she died and they were all laughing. I found it difficult to hold my tears,” she recalls. “The way they were treating us was pathetic.”
The body was finally sent to the family and the episode ended.
But the incident left an indelible mark on Rana. On that day, she realised the sheer helplessness of her people.
The biased treatment practically changed her life – driving her to become a social campaigner, working for the rights of transgender people in the country. She pioneered GIA a few years later to advocate for the rights of her community.
The transgender activist recently filed her nomination papers from PS-114 (which she terms her “native constituency”) to contest the general elections scheduled for May 11.
With only a few weeks left before the country goes to polls, Rana thinks she has a chance to win the seat, which was previously won by Rauf Siddiqui of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
Rana will be the first transgender candidate from Karachi to contest for a provincial assembly seat in the upcoming elections.
“I don’t have money. I roam around the city in a rickshaw or on foot for most of the day. Don’t expect me to organise mass rallies for my campaigns,” she says with a smile. “But I am hopeful.”
Rana believes the people in the constituency know her since her childhood and will trust her with their mandate. Her constituency mostly includes poor shanty towns like Chanesar Goth, Azam Basti, Junejo Town and Mehmoodabad.
Her father was a real estate contractor, who often remained unemployed. “I come from a poor family. I grew up in Mehmoodabad,” she says.
Citing the poor infrastructure of her constituency as the biggest problem facing the people, Rana vows to fix the sanitation and waste management issues if she comes to power.
“If I get hold of the funds as an MPA, I will walk around the areas and make sure each and every narrow lane is fixed,” claims the activist, who considers herself lucky because her family accepted her the way she is.
Born in a family of seven sisters and three brothers, Rana realised she was different at an early age. “When I was 13 or 14, I liked wearing make up and playing with dolls,” she remembers.
Her father and brothers would often beat her up when they found her wearing girl’s clothes because she was still a boy – at least officially.
But soon Rana began making friends with the other transgender people in the neighbourhood, who appreciated her identity. “My family ostracised me, what is usual in many cases with the transgender people,” she says.
But when she formed GIA and became a full-time activist, she won her family back. “Now my parents are proud of me and say that I am better than all my siblings.”
Rana has a roster of “things-to-do” for the transgender community when she comes to power. From solving the issue of the national identity card, which a significant number of people in transgender community do not have due to absence of parental details, to launching a countrywide census to register the transgender people to make them eligible for schemes like Benazir Income Support Programme.
But even if she does not make it to the provincial assembly, Rana believes its fine because: “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about saying it aloud that we exist.”