One of the most vulnerable and marginalised minority communities in Pakistan, transgender people, sometimes narrowly referred to as Khwaja Siras have had a very different role and status in the society historically.
“The perception that this is a small group with no history or sense of community is false,” said Salman Waheed Malik, executive director of Centre for Restoration of Human Dignity (CRHD).
“They have a proper identity; their own culture, traditions and rituals. For example, they have their own language that stretches from Nepal to Iran, their own lifestyle that has been there for centuries,” he added.
A panel of legal experts got together in an interactive session titled ‘Trans Rights in Pakistan: Challenges and Prospects’. It was organised by CRHD in collaboration with 39K and AKS Festival. The panel included a sociologist, Dr Amen Jaffer, High Court Advocate Zainab Zeeshan Malik, and Transgender activist Neeli Rana. It was moderated by event coordinator of CRHD, Rana Adan Abid.
During the Mughal era, the transgender community did not have to face societal stigma. They had special roles in royal courts. But the modern society has marginalised it. They have to face discrimination in every sphere of society.
ORIGINS OF THE BIAS:
“We have actually imported this mindset from the British,” said Zainab.
“When colonialism came, the first thing the British saw was that this community is not acceptable to their morality at the time. Their professions and lifestyle were not acceptable to them. Under the 1871 criminal act, there were provisions to register transgender people and reform them because they thought it was very unnatural. We adopted their mindset. Now, they have outgrown it as a society but we are still deeply ingrained with it.”
Although the act is not implemented in Pakistan but in India it is still on the books.
THE SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT AND ITS LOOPHOLES:
Finally, in 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) recognised transgender people as a separate gender category on their National Identity Cards (NIC).
However, there are many things in the judgment that the community doesn’t agree with. First, they have to provide a medical certificate to prove their gender.
“We said that when other genders don’t have to do that why should we? Does anyone ask a man to prove that they are one?” Neeli questioned.
Rejecting the argument that many people fake their gender Neeli said, “A man can’t fake wearing ladies clothes all day.”
The provincial governments were asked to recognize them, register them, trace their families and give inheritance rights accordingly.
However, the community wants their gurus’ names in place of their fathers’, and not as their guardians. “Our parents abandon us and many don’t even know them. We spend all our lives with the guru. They give us shelter, feed us and raise us. They are our real fathers,” Neeli said.
Transgenders have 2% quota in jobs but Neeli said that this is on paper only, “SC just gave an order and handed over a document that these are your rights. It was never turned into a rule/law and it was never enforced,” said Neeli.
“The SC doesn’t see what’s going on outside the court. If someone had sat with the community, discussed their needs and aspirations, it would have been a lot better.”
In fact, Zainab pointed out, that because of the SC’s decision the community had been stopped from becoming part of the mainstream society, “The community used to launch movements before now the political movements are over.”
The panel also discussed the feasibility of a separate prison for transgender people.
“For now they are kept with men. One can imagine the kind of ridicule and harassment they face inside the cell,” Adan pointed out.
In India, Kerala’s state prison has a separate blocks for transgender prisoners. Gender friendly prisons are also part of CRHD’s mandate.
“It is definitely feasible,” Zainab said. “We can’t think of putting a male and a female in one prison. So it should be the same for transgenders. If it can happen in India, why can’t it happen in Pakistan also?”
POLICE HARASSMENT, RIDICULE:
There are a lot of cases of harassment by the police.
“Police has raped and tortured a lot of the community’s members but people get scared and don’t report it. Every one of us has a horror story,” Neeli said.
Zainab said that Police reforms are very important; something the government does not focus on. Since 1861, there have been no reforms in police structure.
Talking about the causes of indecent behaviour by police personnel, Zainab said, “There is no focus on the training the police rank and file who deal directly with the people. There are no safeguards on their recruitments and no ethical guidelines. All that is done at the local level without any standardisation.”
Zainab said an attempt was made to reform police when General (r) Musharraf brought in the police order of 2002. “If this was properly implemented, things could be been slightly better. But, the Police Order committee didn’t get the funding. The government appointed their blue-eyed persons for the posts. The committee met once in five years and they did nothing,” said Zainab.
In 2012, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) brought the National Human Rights Commission Act. Under National Human Rights Commission’s mandate any citizen can complain to HRCP about abuse by the police.
“But, by that time elections came and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) came to power. The PML-N didn’t like the Act. No commission and members were appointed until 2015,” Neeli said.
Talking about NHRC’s mandate Neeli said they are not much of a help to the Trans community.
“Once we had a meeting with HRCP in which we talked about our rights. They told us we are men who are engaging in “dramay bazi” (melodrama). How can we complain to them when they refuse to acknowledge our existence in front of us?”
Amen, who has been studying the transgender community from a spiritual point of view said that they have one thing in common with the fakeers.
“Faqeer comes from faqar which means to empty yourself so you can reach spirituality. The same is true of transgenders. They leave their families,” Amen said.
Transgender people were also the caretakers in Kaaba. During that time they had authority and a high status in society. The key to the door of Kaaba is still with them. “Even the Saudis couldn’t eliminate this,” said Amen.
They also have special ritualistic roles at Sufi shrines. The first chaddar placed on Bari Imam’s grave was by a transgender.
But they faced discrimination even at the shrines so much so that they had to abandon these places. The panel also pointed out that they are never seen in mosques either because of our prejudice.
Talking about transgender people working as prostitutes, Neeli said that this is the fault of the society, “If we were taught something we wouldn’t have ended up as sex workers. If all the employment opportunities weren’t closed on us, we wouldn’t have to sell our bodies. If there was any space for us in the mainstream society, we wouldn’t be forced to live in sin. If the society wasn’t full of sexual predators who preyed on us, we wouldn’t have to live our lives for the entertainment of others.”
Until politicians don’t recognize this as an important issue, there will be no legislation with regard to this, said Neeli. “Until we have a representative in parliament, no one will listen to us.”