Trans comedian Anaya Sheikh was heckled and harassed onstage with abusive slurs during her performance by Youtube prankster Shahrik Shah at a comedy night held at a cafe in Johar Town on Sunday.
According to Anaya, Shahrik repeatedly came too close to the stage during her performance, made her uncomfortable and shouted transphobic, illiterate and petty remarks about Anaya’s physical appearance and her espousal of feminism again and again.
She also spoke of his uncouth behaviour which is looked down upon during any performance.
“I wore a top which said ‘We Should All Be Feminists.’ I started with jokes about women empowerment and then I replied to those jokes, which were based on trans people. Then Shahrik Shah, from Lahori Prankstar, and another comedian named Usman made jokes and used the [derogatory terms] khusra and shemale while the whole audience was enjoying my performance. He forcibly tried to come onstage,” said Anaya, who is a theatre artist, researcher and trains comedians in an improv group.
“I asked him to leave. He kept showing me his [middle] finger and I said even my fingers are not worthy of you, so he kept abusing me. I completed my performance and I was shivering when I left the stage,” she told of her traumatising experience at the hands of the two men.
“I love my audience but I can’t go through this stress and shame which I just faced. I have the video but I don’t have the courage to watch it, and the more I think that many people were recording [the incident], the more I feel depressed and angry. I know this will be out and I’m imagining how happy that will make transphobes.”
I lost my confidence; I thought I’m brave but until when? To what extent? Why can’t this society become brave and fight against such people? Why didn’t anyone stand up at the event and answer him?”
“I was excited obviously [to perform that night]; it was a new audience. I kept thinking I’ll do a different set and the moment I went on stage, I broke the ice and everyone laughed out. They were enjoying the performance so much. I was scared when I was called again onstage [for the encore] but had to do it — the audience kept shouting ‘Once more, Anaya’. I took a breath and went back, but I was shivering so had to end it,” she said.
After performing again for a brief encore, Anaya immediately left the venue.
The event organiser, LahoriFied, has since come out in Anaya’s support, saying, “Abusing someone on the basis of their gender is totally UNACCEPTABLE and we apologise [to Anaya].”
It is, however, unclear what steps, if any, they took to counter the abusive behaviour while it was happening.
Even though the organiser has apologised, Anaya said that society’s mindset in this time and age has upset her.
“There were some people who laughed at [Shahrik’s] comments, which made me think that people still find us as a joke. There should’ve been a pin-drop silence. This was not a joke. I was not a joke. I work hard to write stuff to make them laugh to give them a good time, even in such stressful times,” she said.
“I was shocked that such people are still existing in this society and people follow them,” she said.
Lahori Prankstar is a YouTube channel run by three local pranksters — Osama Khan, Asad Ramzan and Shahrik Shah, who harrassed Anaya onstage. The channel has a history of uploading videos of public pranks involving crude and ignorant portrayals of marginalised communities and people, including trans and disabled people.