Discrimination Against Transgenders Needs To Stop

On Saturday, 12th September 2020, citizens all over the country came out to protest the brutal rape incident that took place on Lahore-Sialkot Motorway, where a woman was robbed, beaten and gang-raped in front of her kids. The remarks made by the Capital City Police Officer Lahore, Umar Sheikh, in which he shamelessly blamed the women for taking the wrong route and discouraged women to travel at night, antagonised people all over the country.

The protest witnessed various kinds of placards, posters and slogans being chanted. Although the majority of these posters were about the motorway incident, there were also many posters that demanded protection of transgenders. These were in direct response to the recent killing of Gul Panra, a trans-activist who was shot dead in Peshawar. The transgender community also conducted a large protest in Karachi.

Transgenders, often known as the ‘third gender’, ‘hijra’ or ‘khusra’ in local vernacular, remain one of the most marginalised sections of the society in Pakistan and face rampant discrimination and violence. Social stigmas attached to the community by our conservative society means that any discussion about their rights stirs controversy. The taboo is so deeply entrenched among us that it has generated a fear of transgenders among people, especially children, who are told not to interact with them.

Transgenders were labelled “habitual criminals” by the British when they launched a malicious campaign against them through the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871. 138 years later, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of transgender community’s civil rights for the first time in the case of Khaki v Rawalpindi (2009). Eight years after this judgement, the unprecedented Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Act 2017 was introduced in Pakistan which constitutionally recognised them, extended the right to education (enshrined under Article 25-A of the Constitution) to them, and added sections that guaranteed their safety. They were also entitled to vote — a constitutional right that they were previously deprived of – and allowed to choose a gender according to their preference.

However, the question remains that even after such legislations, why do they continue to be persecuted? In July 2020, videos sparked over the internet in which a famous trans-social activist, Julie, was arrested. A month later, a group of men raped and brutally murdered a transgender in the district of Sargodha.

According to the 2017 Housing and Population Census, Pakistan is home to almost 10,500 transgenders, which is a rough estimate. Some NGOs state that the numbers, in reality, are far more, even as high as nearly a million. For such a large segment of the population, funds and resources need to be allocated to protect their interests and rights, alongside the implementation of laws. Schools all over Pakistan should introduce social awareness through their curriculum to teach the students to empathise with these persecuted people. The broken link between legislation and its actual implementation needs finally to be repaired. The taboo surrounding the existence of a people among us needs to be done away with. This may only finally be achieved when the marginalised people have proper representation at all levels and the provision of justice is ensured to them.