by Ali Gauhar
Pakistan has a woeful track record in its treatment of minorities. More often than not, we hear the leaders of this country and read in our mainstream media stories about the horrific atrocities being carried out by the Indian Army in Kashmir (as it should be reported and highlighted), but we often forget about Pakistan’s minorities who are living in constant fear. It is crucial that we continue to bring Pakistan’s shortcomings to the public’s consciousness. Without identifying our weaknesses, we cannot improve the human condition, which is the core tenet of any civilized society.
One of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities are the transgender, also referred to as Khwaja Sira. To say that they have been marginalized is a massive understatement. The transgender community in Pakistan has been subject to abuse and neglect. Blue Chip spoke to Bijli and Rohshni, two transgender individuals who are striving to make a difference. They identified some important issues the transgender community faces.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that transgender people should be given Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs). However, it has made very little difference, mainly because transgender people have trouble getting their birth certificate. Bijli and Roshni are lucky enough to have ID cards. However, most Khwaja Sira do not have ID cards as they are unable to get a hold of their birth certificates. Without an ID card, they cannot travel or receive medical treatment. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, at least 90% of the people who are transgender do not 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. Many do not have any documents as they were abandoned by their families when they were very young.
It is crucial that we find a way for transgender people to get ID cards without an original birth certificate. Since many transgender individuals live in poverty and work as sex workers, they are prone to a number of diseases, which is why it is of utmost importance that they receive medical treatment without being hassled. Finding a solution to this problem is the responsibility of the State. Simply issuing ID cards is clearly not enough. There are many Khwaja Sira who do not have their original birth certificates, and it is unlikely they will get it. It is vital that the State creates a substantive policy to resolve these complications.
However, we must point out that progress has been made in this area. Mansoor Ali Shah, Chief Justice of Lahore High Court, ordered the concerned authorities to include transgender people in the 2017 Population Census. On April 2nd, 2017 the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) announced that it has registered at least 1,681 transgender persons across Pakistan. This is an extremely heartening sign and a step in the right direction.
During our interview, Bijli and Roshni told us that members of the transgender community find it difficult to attain a job because of their gender. Bijli and Roshni state that people look at them and feel uneasy. If society accepted transgender people, they would not have to turn to degrading professions just to survive. Stressing further, Bijli said: “We understand that many people feel awkward around us, but if we are given a chance and brought into the mainstream, we can make valuable contributions. I do not enjoy begging for a living. Every time I beg for money it makes me sad, but what choice do I have.” One often wonders why Pakistan’s economy cannot take off. The core problem many argue is that women and minorities, including the transgender community, are kept away from the workforce. It really is a sad state of affairs when bigotry keeps a country’s economy from flourishing.
Lack of Respect:
“It hurts when people make fun of us. The verbal abuse that we receive is just as bad as being physically abused. Those scars can never heal. All we are asking for is to be treated like human beings” said Bijli, who is deeply saddened by the fact that her community faces constant torment.
She further stressed that not every transgender is a sex worker. “I understand that there are many in our community who sell their bodies for money and behave in a certain way that many find uncomfortable. This is only because we have been marginalized, which forces us towards undignified jobs,” she said. It is ironic that there is a large market for Khwaja Sira in the skin trade given the fact that many view them as vile creatures.
Roshni added that she fails to understand why transgender people cannot be treated like human beings. “I have no idea why so many people are afraid of us. We, like everybody else, were made by the Almighty. We worship the same God everybody else worships.
So I would like to know what excuse people have for treating us like vermin,” she said. Adding on, Roshni lamented that she finds it strange that people treat their dogs better than they treat transgender individuals. “I find it funny that dogs are given more respect than us. We are treated worse than animals. I see people kissing their dogs and showing them so much love. It would be refreshing if we got half that amount of respect.”