Pakistan issued its first third gender passport – but giving respect to the transgender community is asking for too much

Published: July 2, 2017

As a part of Pakistan’s minority group who seems to care about our country’s transgender community, watching this video was disturbing to say the least. Shortly after the holy month of Ramazan was over and Eid was being celebrated, a group of Pakistani men of all ages thought it was amusing and entertaining to publicly harass a group of transgender people in Murree.

The video itself left viewers, including myself, completely taken aback and disappointed. It was a stark reminder of how pathetic people can be. I couldn’t help but wonder how much time it would take for people of this country to become responsible and empathetic citizens. How many battles will activists have to fight to truly shift the way people think and feel about others and ideas that don’t necessarily fit their own schools of thought? Why aren’t members of minority groups in our country treated with the respect they deserve?

I am a hardcore patriot but it is incidents like these that really make me question my love for my country. Pakistan has endured all sorts of pain and continues to do so, yet there is still a large pool of people who are still heartless and insensitive to others’ pain. Being resilient should not mean lack of compassion and sensitivity towards others.

Let’s not forget that minorities in Pakistan continue to be discriminated against in the local Pakistani society. People belonging to minority groups seldom receive positive support from the general public, and even though there are several different legislations and campaigns in progress, their treatment by fellow citizens seizes to change for the better.

Let’s also not forget that the Pakistani government just issued its first third gender passport to a transgender activist in Peshawar. This step was campaigned for by activist Farzana Riaz, the 30-year-old co-founder and president of the rights organisation, TransAction Pakistan. This lifelong battle was fought in order to help Riaz campaign universally on behalf of her community. The Pakistani passport now includes a new “X” category for people who do not prescribe as either “M” (male) or “F” (female).  The “X” category will finally give a chance to khawajasaras – an umbrella term for a third sex that includes transsexuals, transvestites and eunuchs – to register according to their gender.

Not only that, Pakistan was one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise the third sex in 2009, when it allowed transgender people to acquire identity cards and run for elections. They are not allowed to get married legally but recently, a fatwa has been issued by clerics stating otherwise. In a country like Pakistan, where there is now an increasing number of conservatives and religious extremists, I believe these are bold steps taken by the government.

But how long will this brutality last? Why are people so intolerant here?

What is even more demoralising about this incident is that not one person stood up for the victims being harassed. A hoard of men continued to laugh and humiliate them while touching them without their consent. The men shown in this video clearly belong to different age groups, ranging from boys in their teens to grown up men, which is more troubling because it shows how normative and acceptable this kind of behaviour really is. What this behaviour shows though is the high level of insecurity these men have about their own sexuality. Furthermore, it states that there is a desperate need on their part to prove their masculinity by harassing soft targets.

These self-proclaimed patriots and so-called macho men are so threatened by concepts, ideas and people which do not resonate or fit into their own ideals of society, that they feel the need to take matters into their own hands to change things around them. They believe that if they harass other, more vulnerable groups enough, they may be able to get rid of them altogether. However, by acting out this way, all they are doing in reality is showing their extreme ignorance and weakness.

Many people have argued that these incidents are a direct result of the lack of education, and I do agree with this argument but only to a certain extent, because general kindness towards other human beings is neither taught in schools nor is it learnt by reading books. It is the simplest yet the most important gesture.

However, there is no doubt that people need to be sensitised when it comes to understanding and talking about gender and sexuality. I am not sure how much of that will help though, considering fasting for a whole month in the name of religion did practically nothing to change their characters.

What is even more terrifying is that it is not the first time something like this has happened. I have written about injustices against transgender people about three times in the past few months, all as a result of viral videos showing members of the transgender community being beaten brutally or being treated like garbage.

Even though a handful of transgender activists continue to fight this battle, they are constantly faced with supreme abuse and oppression from others around them. A new and serious legislation needs to be tabled which criminalises harassment against transgender people so that perpetrators of this filth and violence can be punished. A truly sad state of affairs!

Purniya Awan

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender Studies graduate from York University, has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a former member of Youth Parliament Pakistan and is a founding member of Courting The Law. She is a women's rights activist and frequently writes on feminist and human rights issues. She tweets @purniyaA (twitter.com/PurniyaA?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • kp

    our societies are sick, backward & hypocriteRecommend