The worst feeling a human can ever face is being helpless and worthless. This is precisely what the trans-genders in Pakistan feel with the unjust treatment they are meted out by the society. Transgenders, in Pakistan, and the region at large, are rarely respected and most of them lead lives of abuse, violence, exploitation and misery. Ironically, they are viewed as ostracised as they have to face a lot of discrimination. These are the same people whose existence in Asia dates back more than 4000 years and who appeared in ancient texts as bearers of fortune and fertility, but in today’s so-called modern society, they are ridiculed. Our mental blocks do not allow us to think about them beyond what we see at traffic signals. Now there is a dire need to counter the old traditions and fight for the rights of this under-privileged yet neglected community.
One of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities in Pakistan is that of the transgenders, sometimes narrowly referred to as hijras or khwaja siras, as these human beings enjoy the least amount of respect in Pakistan. Due to the repressive societal mindset, or more rightly some taboos, the subject of transgenders’ rights is not discussed in our country. Recent events have proven that Pakistan is failing to secure the basic rights of this group of people. The transgender people are harassed and discriminated in every field of life. Pakistani society and government systems inhibit them from getting various jobs and educational institutions do also not provide them with education. When it comes to rights or issues for men and women, laws are countless, but on the rights and issues of the transgender community, mum’s the word.
Transgenders are often subjected to violence in Pakistan. Those not killed or tortured are forced to live in wretched social conditions, are often disowned by family members, and struggle to find employment or any recognition of their basic human rights. The discrimination that starts from an early abandonment by members of family continues to disparage the lives of Pakistani transgenders in the form of brutal mockery at the hands of the society. The critical oblivion of their plight shown by authorities, despite the presence of relevant pieces of legislation, has significantly facilitated the establishment of their second-class status.
Unfortunately, transgender community is facing the issue of social acceptance from the society despite the fact that the religion and humanity vocally teach equality of all humans. This community in Pakistan has been faced with an uphill battle to be accepted as equal citizens having rights according to the country’s constitution. In 2009, the Supreme Court ordered the inclusion of a separate column for them in CNICs. While NADRA announced the inclusion of this column some years ago, the hassles that community members faced in obtaining CNICs still remain. They are required to submit their birth certificates to obtain CNICs, and it is completely ignored that due to the discrimination they face at the hands of their own families, they often do not have birth certificates and other required documentation needed for CNIC issuance.
Let alone their identity, the transgenders are considered a sign of disgrace in the Pakistani culture. Most of these individuals never get a chance to acquire education in the regular schools due to the discriminatory treatment by their families as well as the fellow citizens. Consequently, most of these individuals have no other option but to make their living by singing and dancing alongside the road or in private parties.
There are many other issues faced by transgenders in Pakistan. There is no government aid or support system to help these individuals live a normal life. Government institutions and other governing bodies are widely known to harass them. In the case of any criminal victimisation or even sexual harassment, these individuals expect no help or support from the community or government institutions. There are literally no job opportunities or financial securities available to them due to which most members of the transgender community are forced to make their living by prostitution. Although the Supreme Court had also announced a two percent quota for transgender individuals in all government and non-government departments, yet even this never got materialised. Regardless of laws and fatwas that have been passed, this particular segment of our society is often subjected to hate crimes, insults, physical harassment, sexual abuse, psychological torture and murder.
We need to break down the stereotypical male and female gender roles that have existed in our homes and public spheres for decades. By declassifying roles and behaviour, we can finally accept transgender individuals as a part of our society. We need to make people realise that gender roles are not genetic; they are instilled socially. The only way to break away from such perceptions is through changes in the way we perceive gender. The government can also help establish these ideals by implementing steps to recognise transgenders on job application forms and as a third option in the gender section on CNIC forms. Until hospitals and doctors do not give them precedence, their status in our intolerant society would remain the same. Until they do not have their own representatives in the parliament, no one would listen to them.
No matter how small it may be, every act of bigotry further ingrains our stigmatization of the transgender community and its lifestyle. To start with, a strengthened resolve and legal action is urgently required from the government. The Senate Committee on Marginalised Segments has done well by deciding to invite transgender activists to discuss issues facing the community and find a way to prevent violation of their rights. It is strange that none of the governments of the past or any national institution ever paid attention to this serious issue and as a consequence transgenders even have no protection of their fundamental rights like jobs and inheritance. The problem needs to be addressed on priority as, according to a study, the number of people with transgender signs or tendencies is increasing. In the first place, our society needs to change its overall behaviour toward trasgenderism, which is considered a shame and disgrace. Steps should be taken at family, collective and state levels to ensure proper formal education for transgenders, which would ultimately help them acquire some good and respectable livelihood as against dancing and singing that is presently considered their fate. They should be provided help both by the society and the Government in case of criminal victimization or sexual harassment. There is urgent need to fix job quota for them as financial security would encourage them not to indulge in prostitution. It is hoped that the lawmakers would not leave the matter as such and take it to the logical conclusion by enacting legislation that effectively ensures protection of rights of transgenders. The Senators would be doing a great service to the society if they succeed in this mission.
Obstacles for transgender voters are particularly acute in Pakistan, one of the most conservative countries, where ethnic, religious and sexual minorities have often been victims of violence and persecution. One of the obstacles for the transgender community to exercise their right to vote is the acquisition of a computerised national identity card (CNIC). Reportedly, at least 90 percent of the people who are transgender in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa do not still possess a CNIC. This is either because they do not have their father’s name or there is no option in the form that identifies their gender. Government’s urgent attention is needed to end this discrimination against transgender people, who have no choice regarding fulfilment of their professional, educational and housing needs. They are treated like pariahs in society and do not enjoy an equal status like other citizens. The transgender community has been facing oppression for decades. Not only of the government, it is also a job of civil society to come forward and recognise them as one of the members of the mainstream and do not just engage in mockery or just make them a laughing stock. Recommendations should be forwarded to give transgenders rights of franchise and to grant them a respectable status in the society.
By giving them the franchise right, the government can open the doors to eliminate other kinds of discrimination against transgender people. Already the Pakistani discourse on human rights has largely neglected the transgenders. They can contribute positively to the country’s economy if they are treated equally. At present, their lives are limited to earn a few bucks through singing and dancing at family functions and weddings or else they work as sex workers. It is high time this discrimination brought to an end. Moreover, by providing transgenders with the right to vote will enable them to have their say in politics as well as it will give this marginalised community a stronger political voice.