Violence, Exclusion And Transgenders Of Paskistan
By: Waqar Gillani
Zara Naz has owned a cell phones sale and repair shop in Islamabad for more than a decade. For a 35 year old, openly transgender woman in Pakistan to be a small business owner is no small feat.
Named Muhammad Asif at birth, Zara grew up in a working class family of Rawalpindi. She continued studies till first year of her intermediate college as Asif with five brothers and one sister. Leaving college was not her choice, “boys in school and college used to harass me because of my feminine voice and increasingly visible bosom. My brothers would defend me and fight with those boys. One day, my elder brother got into a huge fight over the harassment I faced which forced me to stop going to school.” Zara’s aunt took her to Rawalpindi where she befriended another transgender woman Fauzia and, later she joined a troupe and began dancing professionally at events. Zara danced for the first time at 17 at a basant night party. After a few years, she quit performing and started a small business with the help of her then partner. And now, fifteen years later, she is happily running her mobile repair and sales shop in one of Islamabad’s busiest markets.[gap]
Zara sees efforts to help her community progress in Pakistan as ineffective. “We want to be accepted as human beings and not strange creatures. We are created by God in womb of women, just like other persons.” She wants to live in a society which does not isolate transgenders but understands them, gives them equal rights and opportunities. “Today, I am proud that I am supporting my mother and a younger brother. They are happy with me and my profession.”[gap]
“Boys in school and college used to harass me because of my feminine voice and increasingly visible bosom. My brothers would defend me and fight with those boys. One day, my elder brother got into a huge fight over the harassment I faced which forced me to stop going to school.”
Violence – An Everyday Reality of Life For Most Transgenders
Among the persecuted transgender community of Pakistan, Zara’s is a rare case, because she struggled for a life of respectability and choices and succeeded.
Pakistan’s transgender community suffer extreme violence and discrimination. They are subjected to torture, sexual abuse and harassment. Due to society’s exclusion, rampant bigotry and absence of state support, a glaring majority of transgenders do sex work to survive. Julie, Shilpa and Nomi, three transgender women moved from Faisalabad to Islamabad as a result of violence and threats by men. Two of these three trans women were sexually assaulted by two men at their house.
“We moved to Islamabad because of the threats we received when we tried to pursue a case against our attackers. Here we are looking for work and make ends meet by dancing at weddings and other parties”, Julie told Naya Daur, adding that that violence against transgender community has increased in Faisalabad and other areas of Punjab.
Sexual and gender minorities in Pakistan are unprotected but in the case of trans community the circumstances are such that sexual assault and harassment of transgender persons is not considered rape or attempt at rape but sodomy.
Citizens Without Rights
Pakistan’s sixth Population and Housing Census says there are 10,418 transgender persons in the country. However, transgender rights activists disagree with the official figures and claim that their population is much higher.
Supreme Court of Pakistan, in September 2012 ruled that transgender community has equal rights as all citizens as enshrined in the constitution. The court also recognised their right to family inheritance and issuance of CNIC. The national identity card included a category of third gender for the trans community. However, their struggle to be accepted as citizens with rights is never ending. In 2016, a transgender woman in Peshawar was shot at and taken to the hospital with critical injuries. The hospital administration was undecided for hours whether to admit her in male ward or female ward.
In August this year, two bills were tabled in the parliament for rights of transgender persons, one for rights protection and the other an amendments bill. Senator Samina Saeed of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a member of Senate’s Human Rights Committee and also member of the sub-committee said draft of the bill to protect transgender rights says the legislation has been revised twice and is in a better shape now. “We hope Senate will pass this bill soon and government will show its commitment to this issue.”
But the transgender activists are sceptical of the authorities’ efforts so far. Bindiya Rana, founding member of Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) had petitioned the court in 2010 for financial and employment support. “Governments have not even implemented previous rulings of the Supreme Court on ensuring our community’s rights fully. Our dilemma is that the state is not serious in implementation of rulings and will not be even if the bill about our rights is passed. Unfortunately, the government passes laws and is interested in amendments which brings political benefits and they are not serious about giving rights to a vulnerable community like ours.”
Transgender citizens including Zara, Bindiya and many others hope for improvement in status of the trans community through social and economic integration with dignity. They want the government to step up its efforts.
Most importantly, the informed citizens of Pakistan need to stand up for this marginalised community persecuted by social stigma and an adverse legal environment.