Marvia: Pakistan’s first transgender news anchor, Says; “I am here to change my community’s destiny”

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By Shaharyar Rizwan
KARACHI: A local news channel claims to have made history by hiring the country’s first transgender news anchor.
Having aired for the first time 10 years ago, Kohenoor News re-launched on Friday with an elaborate ceremony where it also announced its hiring of transgender individual Marvia Malik as a news anchor – apparently a first in Pakistan’s media history. The response to this initiative could be gauged from the appreciation it has received on social media with tweets and video messages by scores of people including renowned journalists and TV personalities.
Lahore-based Marvia, not Maavia as she’s been called before, is confident, determined, ambitious and goal-oriented. She has a bachelors degree and has now applied for admission to a masters of arts programme. She claims to have read the basics of journalism and civics and has already dabbled in modelling; she recently made headlines by walking the runway at the PFDC fashion week in Lahore earlier this month.
“I have several modelling offers that I’m considering, but I want to do something for my community that I feel is way behind. So I want to strengthen my people. Everywhere we go, a transgender person is looked down upon. But there’s nothing we can’t do; we’re educated, have degrees, but no opportunities, no encouragement. This is what I want to change. Just as I created history in the fashion industry, I want to do the same in the media industry.”
Marvia says she had made up her mind as a child that she doesn’t want to end up where her fellow transgenders do: dancing on the streets, begging, selling their bodies. She wanted to become either a journalist or a lawyer.
“The story of every transgender is the same whether they beg on the street or end up becoming the prime minister; we all suffer: our families disown us, beat us up. It’s the same for me. I worked really hard to be where I am – worked at parlours (eventually becoming a trained make-up artist), did odd jobs, but refused to beg or dance. I wanted to make a name for myself and eventually for my community. My family only helped me till my matriculation, but I supported myself for intermediate and graduation.”
All her life she has faced abuse of all kinds, which Marvia claims has made her stronger as a person and in her resolve. So determined was she to make a name for herself that during her two-year intermediate from a boys’ college, she ignored every comment, every remark that came her way with her head held high. She strongly feels the transgender community has not been supported despite several tall claims by authorities. “Pakistan has been independent for so long, yet we don’t have the same rights as any other individual in the country. Only claims have been made and promises of quota in government jobs, but nothing has come out of it.”
Marvia has another plan too. She wants to push for a law making mandatory for families to give transgender persons their share in property as a boy or girl is. “Transgenders are forced to dance and beg because they have no other means to make ends meet. When they are shunned by families, they have nowhere else to go. My trans friends who have masters degrees don’t have jobs which is why they end up on streets or become sex workers. This is why I want to push for a law so a transgender, if disowned, can make a living out of the share in property.”
About landing the job at Kohenoor News and the experience so far, Marvia says she applied when positions were advertised, came in for an interview over three months ago and was hired the same day. “The channel management told me the same day they wanted to support me and my community and help us get our rights and an honourable place in society. The three-month training also went like a breeze because everyone is so friendly, loving and helpful. It feels like home here at work; I feel they’re all my family because I never got a family’s love. Even the experienced anchors helped me a lot.” Marvia tells us she’s receiving the same salary, perks and privileges that any fresh news anchor at the channel would, but is getting much more attention and respect than everyone else.
Sharing her thought about survival as a trans person, Marvia says for over a year she’s been troubled by the fact that as a child they’re not accepted by their family, on the streets society doesn’t accept them despite becoming its source of entertainment, in old age one has to work as domestic worker and after death their burial is a struggle because they’re essentially a disowned body and the community has to collect funds for burial. “I don’t want to die like this. My circumstances have made me confident and bold. I have set out on this journey to change lives of transgenders. Like I said earlier, there is no difference in the life and story of any transgender in this country. There is only one reason: family acceptance. If that property law gets promulgated I can guarantee no family will ever disown a trans child.”
She firmly believes that only one’s skill and talent should serve as criteria for job recruitment. “Gender ka kya hai? Kapron mein sab kuch chhup jaata hai (What is gender? Everything is eventually concealed under your clothes). We only need to change our mentality and everything else will change itself. I’m here to change my community’s destiny, not represent myself as an individual.”
As a parting note, she recites a verse summing up the difference between society’s approach and of those with a positive attitude. “Neak ne neak samjha, bad ne bad samjha. Jis ka jitna zarf tha us ne utna samjha.”
Kohenoor News’ News Director Bilal Ashraf told Images that they wanted to relaunch the channel with a different approach and work for social causes instead of depending on the monotonous formula other channels are employing. Marvia’s application for a job was organic while advertising positions for the relaunch, he added.
The channel’s chief executive offer, Junaid Mahmood Ansari, added that he had never planned to take such an initiative, but when they received the job application, he did not see a reason why he shouldn’t give her a job if she fulfilled the criteria.
Ashraf said they called her in for an interview, considered her education, abilities and the spark in her as we would with anyone else and just opened the door to her and her community because: “We didn’t want to discriminate on the basis of gender. After she received a positive response from us, she encouraged her educated community members who also applied. Besides Marvia, we ended up hiring another transgender person, Veena, on the copy editing desk because why not?”
Ansari said Marvia and Veena’s hiring translated into a long-term campaign by the channel called #RastaDijiye to ensure transgender rights. “I want to use this platform to work for people’s problems and society at large. There’s a lot much more to this campaign than the hiring of transgenders. We want to take this forward and set an example. And we hope other channels and organisations follow suit not just for ratings, but genuinely accept and help this community and other underprivileged sections of society.”
He brushes off the negative online reactions to his decision of opening doors to transgender people, saying he would continue doing his job and opening avenues to anyone who is educated and capable.