A woman and her husband argue over whether they want to keep their newborn. The wife's mother is distraught by the child's arrival, the husband's mother prefers that it rather be pronounced dead.
These are reactions to the birth of an intersex child.
Upcoming TV drama Khuda Mera Bhi Hai will put us face to face with the discrimination faced by intersex individuals ('hijras' in local speak) — from the very beginning of their lives.
Starring Aisha Khan and Syed Jibran as the parents, the drama serial pits Aisha's maternal instinct to protect her child from harm against Jibran and wider society's perception of intersexed people.
"When I was researching the story, doctors told me stories that still give me goosebumps," tells The Crew Films' Head of Films Asma Nabeel, who makes her TV screenwriting debut with this ARY Digital drama. "[Doctors told me that] parents either hide the reality and curse the child for the rest of its life, or give it away at the time of birth."
"Having two children myself, I know the kind of pressures mothers can face. Mothers stand up for their children on so many occasions, and there are single mothers who raise children on their own. When I based the whole drama around the parents, I decided that the mother in my story will be a very strong character."
With a topic most people would sweep under the rug, it's surprising that producers bet on a risky venture like this, but ARY Head of Content Ali Imran says they do it all the time.
"Our TV channel has often made dramas that addressed societal taboos; this includes projects like Roag that dealt with child abuse and Khushi that was about adoption," he begins.
"I'm so surprised by criticism that we only do serials featuring crying women. No channel has experimented more than ours. Sure, we do the formulaic TV dramas too, but we also do alternative dramas. As a writer, I believe that TV [shapes the minds] of people. It can sensitivise an audience to various issues. So we make sure to produce TV serials that also challenges the status quo in some way."
"We expect a backlash from certain religious quarters, but we're prepared to fight the good fight. It's the least we could do."
Asma spoke to a number of intersex people, three gynecologists and some school management officials as research for her story. Staff of a major Pakistani school chain told her that they've never had parents bring an intersex child for admissions. "'It's always either a boy or a girl,' they said."
"It's not like the issue is not there, our acceptance is lacking," says Asma. "I used to wonder whether our [gender-coded] system of behaviour is made by God or made by society. I realised that it is made by society. So then, I wrote this story."
The writer hopes her story will play a small part in integrating intersex people in mainstream society.
"My only request to the audience would be to care about the drama's message beyond its hype period. Respect the people, offer some help, give them jobs. I don't want to create hype around me or my writing, but to push for some small change in society. It doesn't happen with one project, but if the dialogue starts, it could eventually lead to some governmental level change. That should be our goal."
Khuda Mera Bhi Hai begins airing on October 22nd.