Updated Aug 19, 2017 09:50am

A new comic book hopes to bring Pakistan's transgender community into the mainstream

Azcorp Entertainment is known for introducing and popularising new comic book series in Pakistan.

They made headlines with their series Team Muhafiz, a comic book about a multi-ethnic group of young heroes striving to fight the wrongs in their society.

Now, Azcorp has taken on a new project, which highlights the issues faced by the transgender community.

Comic book Basila & the Street Crew revolves around a young orphaned girl, who becomes a graffiti artist while fighting injustice on the side. What really makes this book stand out is that Basila, the protagonist, is raised by a transgender woman.

Azcorp's new project highlights the issues faced by the transgender community
Azcorp's new project highlights the issues faced by the transgender community

Azcorp held a launch for Basila at T2F on Thursday, which featured a panel that included Basila co-creator/co-writer/illustrator Anain Shaikh, activist Kami Sid, journalist Afia Salam and actor Tipu Adnan Shah. Their discussion was moderated by Zarrar Khuhro.

Co-writer Noman Ansari could not attend as he was out of town, but he sent his thoughts.

CEO of Azcorp Entertainment Imran Azhar spoke some words of appreciation for the Basila team at the event
CEO of Azcorp Entertainment Imran Azhar spoke some words of appreciation for the Basila team at the event

CEO of Azcorp Entertainment Imran Azhar, who is also Basila's co-creator, said, "I'm very proud of my team for pulling this off. A lot of research went in to creating Basila. We had a lot of help from Kami and others."

Panel moderator Zarrar Khuhro touched on how comic books are influenced by society and in turn, influence society
Panel moderator Zarrar Khuhro touched on how comic books are influenced by society and in turn, influence society

Zarrar talked about the importance of comic books highlighting the state of current affairs, giving an example of Marvel's X-Men series and the politics surrounding its plot. He also gave the examples of Muslim superheroes like Kismet, Kamala Khan (Miss Marvel) and Simon Baz (Green Lantern) proving how comic books are influenced by society and in turn, influence society.

Co-creator/co-writer/illustrator Anain Shaikh said the important thing for her was to get the transgender characters to look just right
Co-creator/co-writer/illustrator Anain Shaikh said the important thing for her was to get the transgender characters to look just right

For Anain, who also has the credit for illustrating the book, the important thing was getting the transgender characters to look just right.

"I wanted the transgender characters to be 'normal' and not caricatures," said Anain. "I didn't want any stereotypical moves or looks for them. That would defeat the purpose, if they are sort of funny. To counter that, we delved into their personality."

Anain Shaikh is the co-creator, co-writer and illustrator of Basila
Anain Shaikh is the co-creator, co-writer and illustrator of Basila

She added, "The character Riffat Apa (the transgender woman raising Basila) grows and develops as a character throughout the comic. She has these ambitions, these dreams. There's another character called Anji who is also a transgender person, who aspires to get an education for herself. I think that's something we can't even comprehend to be difficult."

First cover of Basila
First cover of Basila

Tipu, who has played a transgender character in shows like Khuda Mera Bhi Hai, picked up on how society makes the transgender community's life difficult, saying, "We're all victims of social conditioning."

Tipu revealed that the drama was not the first time he played a transgender character, but every time he had to play it, he played the character differently. Like Anain, Tipu pays heed to not presenting a caricature of the community he is portraying.

"If we're actually serious about changing our society, our lifestyles will [have to] change dramatically. It's how we raise our children. If we teach them about humanity, teach them that emotions have no gender, that will make the difference we need. Education plays a huge role here. Hopefully, Basila will normalise an important concept in the society for the youth and show the adults the need to change."

Kami Sid assisted Azcorp with Basila
Kami Sid assisted Azcorp with Basila

Kami Sid was excited to be a part of the Basila launch.

"When I was told by Imran about this project I was thrilled. I didn't care about my busy schedule, I knew I had to be here."

For Kami, steps like these are necessary for change.

"Change in society can't come from just one side. Also, we can't change the mindset of the adults now, they're settled in their ways. But we can pave the way for the children and the youth that are in schools and institutes."

About the treatment of the transgender community, Kami said, ""There's a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance. We are tolerated when there's a wedding we're wanted to dance for. Our goal is to reach acceptance. We are a part of the society and we don't want to special treatment, we want equal treatment. In our so-called male dominant society, this patriarchal...misogynist... mindset wants to suppress us most."

She added, "I have a voice because I spoke up. People may respect me but I am still just one. There are many who don't have a voice and have given up to this stereotype and lifestyle. We want to be neither glorified nor victimised. We're capable human beings who just want to be given a chance to prove our worth."

Basila's artbook
Basila's artbook

Kami's views are exactly what Basila hopes to show. As Anain also claimed, the script of Basila will never limit a person to the being transgender, it never says 'a transgender woman runs in,' but says 'a woman runs in'. The characters may be transgender, but that is not all there is to their personality. And it's high time the same is done with the transgender community here. Perhaps Basila can help normalise that.

As Afia Salam put it, "Children are not born with biases. We are at an unfortunate state where even the very educational institutions we hope will change mindsets are also feeding biases, differentiating through class, ethnicity and gender."

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