In a powerful moment from an interview discussing her journey as a human rights defender for the Trans community in Pakistan, Nayyab Ali shares that while she is the most internationally awarded Transgender person in South Asia, the ‘award’ she is most proud of is her acid scars.
While this may sound shocking, Nayyab describes in harrowing detail how they were the turning point for her life. Nayyab was interviewed as part of the United Nations video campaign, Diversity in Adversity, which highlights and celebrates queer human rights defenders and activists around the globe and shares the incredible work they do.
Caution: Graphic details of attacks ahead.
In the video, the activist describes that when a friend from the Trans community was raped by a gang, she came to Nayyab for help. Nayyab accompanied her to seek justice and the pair filed an FIR (First Information Report). An FIR is a document prepared by police organisations in Pakistan when a person makes a report of a serious criminal offence.
While the case went to court, after some time passed, the gang began to threaten Nayyab. Then, one day, while she was dancing at a festival, she describes, “they came to me and threw an acid on me.” She sustained serious burns to her chin and neck.
Nayyab continues, “During that time period when I was in bed struggling with my life and death, I thought about my existence. I thought of all the sufferings that I have faced. I recalled all the oppressions that me and my community face in regular life. At that time, I committed myself that I have to do something positive.”
It was that commitment, she shares that turned “ordinary Nayyab Ali” to a leading Trans human rights defender.
In the years that followed, Nayyab became Co-Chair of the Pakistan Alliance for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. She also manages the Khawaja Sira Community Centre which provides vocational training, life skills education and driving classes for the Trans community.
As well as leading advocacy for the approval of Pakistan’s National Transgender Rights Protection Policy, she has been vocal in standing up for human rights and decrying violence against the Trans community.
As may unfortunately be expected, it hasn’t been an easy road advocating openly and vocally, Nayyab has been a survivor of two murder attempts and a kidnapping. In a letter addressed to the Government of Pakistan, the United Nations detailed a time when Nayyab launched a social media campaign demanding justice for Heera Malik. Heera is a colleague who was violently attacked, but while the attack was reported to the police, an FIR was not immediately filed and no protection was offered.
Following her social media campaign, two men broke into Nayyab’s home, bound, beat her and robbed her in an attack lasting over three hours. She was then told she would be killed if she spoke up about the violence suffered by the Trans community in Pakistan.
Despite this, the brave Nayyab has continued proud and undeterred, aware of the impact her work and that of other activists has on the Trans community, not only in Pakistan but across the world. She explains, “Communities like us, we face trauma on a regular basis. We face threats to our life.
“They can’t stop us from advocating for human rights, but it can be a source of courage, inspiration.”
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