‘Izzat’ and the transgender community | Pakistan Today

‘Izzat’ and the transgender community

Coming to terms with our skewed moral compass

Vested in male clothing and the privilege it affords to a cis-gender man, one wonders out loud what ‘dignity’ the transgender people can ever hope to achieve “acting” the way they do.

This man is the founding stone of the crooked house whose smoking chimney is a viral video of a transgender woman being violated. Once we’ve decided, in our gross ignorance, that ‘izzat’ (respect) and ‘hijra’ are words that are utterly incongruous, we set off a chain reaction that inevitably results in the decimation of the transgender people.

A viral video depicts what can only be described as an understudy for a Lollywood villain – a semi-beefy male with a thick mustache and a gaudy chain around his neck – mercilessly beating a transgender woman with a belt, while uttering obscenities. The woman, lying prone on the bed and shaking with abject terror and pain, screams and pleads, while his testosterone-overdosed aggressor continues without remorse.

The cis-gender nation is both shocked and outraged by this video, which only exposes our collective ignorance; further enraging many transgender people and their allies. The real outrage is the fact that this is a revelation to most of us. The transgender community has known this since beyond remembrance, and has been experiencing such ignominy and violence on a regular basis. For us, the cis-gender people, this is bizarre, outré – like suddenly walking into your house and catching your parrot smoking a Dunhill light. Who would’ve expected?

Following widespread outrage, several suspects have been taken into custody. These include Jajja Butt – a person whose name alone may not be evidence of his criminality and certainly doesn’t deserve mockery, but coincidentally appears to be a name fit for an the antagonist in a B-grade Punjabi screenplay. Reports suggest that he violated the transgender woman for her refusal to pay extortion money, but Jajja Butt’s puzzling defence is that he simply did it out of rage on discovering that the victim – his lover, he claims – was romantically involved with someone else.

This is the point where it because clear that violence against transgender people has firm roots in our collective patriarchal mindset. In Jajja Butt’s mind, beating a woman up for being ‘involved’ with someone else is far less ignominious than beating her up for extortion money. To him, and many like him, this is neither legally problematic, nor morally dubious; like an 18th century slave owner punishing his human property for picking someone else’s cotton instead of his.

It’s excruciating to note that the barbaric video is but a trailer to the full horrors that befell the transgender citizens that day. According to a second video by Julie – a transgender video present at the scene of the crime – the victims were gang-raped all night, beaten with shoes, and made to drink human excrement.

Once again, these are details that would utterly mortify the ‘shareef’ citizenry of Pakistan, which takes for granted all the privileges that come from living in a cis-normative sociopolitical system. But the transgender community, particularly the economically underprivileged, has long been crying out against the unspeakable prevalence of these incidents, and the ease with which the perpetrators get away with it.

Violence against transgender people, particularly sexual violence, is the entirely expected consequence of a sociopolitical system that mocks and criminalises the transgender people. This is a circumstance, completely of our own making, where consensual sexual advances towards the transgender people are shamed, unless they’re dressed up in red and presented as “punishment”. In the latter case, the sexual assault is excused by the general public through meticulous victim-blaming, and the ever-popular idea that transgender people shouldn’t have been “behaving like that” in the first place.

This ought to be taken as the crux of what I have written. The respectable progressive cis-gender people of Pakistan wag their fingers at the Jajja Butts of our country, and implicitly congratulate themselves for their quasi-progressive and non-violent mindsets. Few of them would dare consider how they enabled this gross violence by stripping the transgender folk of their human dignity, leaving them utterly vulnerable to the street dogs that prey on the weak.

No, we didn’t beat the transgender women. All we ever did, as a nation, was deprive them of jobs and respectable means of income, refused to let our children mingle and make friends with “their type”, wielded their identity as a curse word to laughingly lance at anyone we despise, and assured their descent into the socioeconomic ditch where violence against them is nearly inevitable.

And now we casually retreat to our social media bubbles, and tell our friends how upset we are that the chain of events we collectively set in motion has reached its finale. And while doing so, we continue to misidentify transgender women as “men in women’s clothing”, rather than actual women; and we carry on using the word transgender as a noun (“a transgender”) rather than a verb.

But at least we’re not the hand with a belt in it. And that’s comforting, I suppose.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.