By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Attorney Nisha Rao maneuvers among the crowd of black-clad attorneys near Karachi City Courts in search of her client.
However, 28-year-old Rao isn’t just another attorney running for a meeting. As Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer, she found her way from the streets to the courtroom and her example inspires other transgender people in the conservative Islamic Republic.
“I am proud to have become Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer,” Rao told Reuters.
Life is difficult for transgender people in Pakistan, where the Supreme Court only allowed them to claim a third gender on their national ID cards in 2009. Parliament just passed a law in 2018 that recognizes transgender people as equal citizens and protects them from discrimination and violence.
Many outcasts who are treated as outcasts are victims of sexual assault and work as wedding dancers or beg for a living.
Rao also begged on the street after running away from their middle-class home in the eastern city of Lahore with two other transgender people.
When she arrived in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, the older transgender people she sought refuge with advised her to beg or become a sex worker in order to survive.
Rao stood at a traffic light, begging from car to car, but was determined to escape that route and eventually use her income to pay for law classes at night.
She graduated from law school after a few years, received her law license earlier this year, and joined the Karachi Bar Association.
She has contested 50 cases and works with a non-governmental organization fighting for transgender rights.
Rao has expanded her clientele to include non-transgender people
“As my case is about harassment, I think Rao can best represent me as transgender people are often harassed in our society,” said Jeya Alvi, 34, an office secretary who met Rao for a consultation.
The story goes on
A 2017 census counted 10,418 transgender people out of 207 million in the country, but rights group Charity Trans Action Pakistan estimates there are at least 500,000.
“Rao begged with us here, today she is better than many others. But she still helps us, she even answers at midnight (when we contact her),” said Nayab, a transgender beggar who has a name.
Rao has even greater ambitions as a lawyer.
“My goal is to become Pakistan’s first transgender judge,” she said.
(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; editing by Gibran Peshimam and Christian Schmollinger)