In a society where transgender persons are treated as outcasts, Karachi’s Nisha Rao is hell-bent on fighting people’s discriminatory and harsh perceptions by pursuing higher education.
Rao, a lawyer and activist, has become’s Pakistan’s first transgender student to have been granted admission into an MPhil programme to study law. She will be doing her LLM degree from the University of Karachi.
The activist was also the first Pakistani transgender person to have obtained a law degree from the Sindh Muslim Government Law College in 2020.
In an exclusive interview with Geo.tv, Rao expressed happiness over being admitted to an MPhil programme as the first transgender person. “I had been very worried for two months. I took the exam in June this year, but was informed just four days ago that I had gotten admission,” she said.
Nisha explained that a two-year LLM degree is equivalent to an MPhil degree and confirmed that it will be the first time a transgender person will attempt to get the degree.
According to Nisha, KU Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Khalid Iraqi says that KU is the first university in Pakistan to award an LLM degree to a transgender individual.
The fight for higher education
It is very difficult for a transgender person to get an education in Pakistan due to a lack of resources, Rao shared, explaining that education institutes don’t admit people of her community and there is no quota system for them.
“I have paid a fee of Rs104,000 for one semester for LLM, which shows how impossible an idea it is for transgender persons — who mostly beg on the streets — to be able to pay for higher education,” she commented.
She said that this is where the challenges start for transgender people: should they beg or complete their education? Transgender persons, she said, can’t make up their minds about their education because it is so expensive. Nisha also pointed out that it would cost her over Rs400,000 to complete her LLM degree.
Nisha added that she had also bought a scooty for Rs 170,000 so she could go to the university easily.
She lamented that there are no scholarships for transgender persons either.
The activist clarified that she wasn’t asking for a scholarship for herself, but that it would be better for universities to offer scholarships to transgender persons so that they don’t have to beg.
“Don’t they know what our livelihood is?” she asked, adding that while she herself does not seek a discount on the fee, she wants the government to allow such discounts to transgender individuals who want to study and are in need.
She said that the attitude of the administration in the university was good and cooperative with her and that the varsity even gave her a congratulatory call when she got her admission.
When Nisha was asked if she was afraid that people would harass or bully her, she confidently replied that it all depends on someone’s personality.
“If a transgender person speaks well, puts on less make-up, walks properly and stays confident, people won’t bother them,” she said, adding that she had still had never faced such unpleasant situations.
Should encourage transgender persons to become active citizens: KU VC
Karachi University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Khalid Iraqi told Geo.tv that society should encourage transgender people to become active citizens.
He said that the decision to admit Nisha Rao was taken at a meeting of the Board of Advanced Studies and Research (BASR).
A dean who attended the meeting told Jang that Rao had low marks in her test, but given her interest in the rights of transgender people and in higher education, she was exclusively allowed to pursue an MPhil in law.
When Iraqi was asked whether a transgender person would be considered for a teaching job at the varsity if they applied, he said the decision would depend on the selection committee.
The KU VC said that any student can contact the financial aid office of the university for scholarships.
Asked about the university’s policy to protect transgender persons from bullying, he said action would be taken against such people in accordance with the law.