Transgenders in Pakistan: An identity card hasn’t accomplished anything

Published: March 5, 2014
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Bangladeshi 'hijra' social worker Shikder holds her national identity card. PHOTO: REUTERS

We, as Pakistanis, have a profound lack of empathy for individuals that suffer from a Gender Identity Disorder (GID). These individuals have, perhaps, faced the severest form of discrimination from among all the minorities in Pakistan since ages, and unless a change from within emanates, would continue to be harassed for years to come.

Though I am not a writer by profession, a recent incident in the shacks of Rawalpindi forced me to write this article. While purchasing groceries with a relative, I came across Aashi and Heer, two transgender people living in a hut nearby. As they entered the store, they were frowned upon by other customers and shunned by the management there. Later, I saw them by a butcher’s shop, purchasing the feet of chickens that had been slaughtered during the day. Upon questioning them about why they wouldn’t buy a chicken instead, Heer answered;

“Even after roaming the entire day on the streets, we are still ridiculed and laughed at. People do not usually like to give money to us as much as they would choose to help an underprivileged child or a homeless mendicant. We often have to resort to other means of making money, even if that means letting go of our morals. There are times when we aren’t able to enjoy a good night’s meal, even after an entire day of dancing on wet floors.”

Granted, the Supreme Court ruling in 2011 has given transgender people the right to vote and to attain a National Identity Card (NIC) of their own, a right that had been denied to them for the past 64 years. However, this is only a small fraction of what is essentially needed in our society at the moment. A mere identity card has not been able to provide these individuals with the rights they deserve. Such individuals are often abandoned by their relatives and immediate families at a very early age. The ones, who aren’t, wilfully leave their houses in search for a place that would actually own them, a place they could refer to as home.

Just because these individuals fail to conform to the stereotypical norms of our culture, we have reduced them down to such a level, where the only two occupations accessible to them are begging and prostitution. They are entirely helpless because of our attitude towards them. Such individuals are not even seen as waiters at restaurants or workers in construction industries, due to their ambiguous genitalia. Basic necessities such as educational institutes, job opportunities as well as medical facilities are not provided to them on the basis of them being transgender or hijras, as they are most commonly referred.

During the elections of 2013, Bindiya Rani, the President of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), an organisation working for the rights as well as social justice for the transgender community in Pakistan, fought from PS-115 in Karachi. I was appalled to see that even the news of a person from the transgender community running in the elections was greeted with general ridicule and mockery. Our society has instilled this belief in our citizens that these individuals are not capable of anything beyond beggary, dancing and prostitution.

As Pakistanis, we need to realise that this is not merely a war that these individuals have to fight for themselves; they are human beings, just like us, and deserve as much of a right to education and job openings as each one of us. We have the capabilities to educate our community as well as the upcoming generations to treat these individuals as regular citizens and not outcasts.

These individuals have voices that are not heard by anyone. We need to be the voice that speaks on their behalf, fights for their rights and makes living for them less painful.

Zainab Bhatti

Zainab Bhatti

The author is a graduate from Lahore University of Management Sciences and is currently working on the US Aid Power Distribution Program. She is essentially involved in issues related to women empowerment within the energy sector. Other than that, she loves reading as well as painting.

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

  • Maryam

    An issue that has been neglected for quite a while. Well written!Recommend

  • Ghalia Ahmed

    Zainab, I really liked it and you are so right about it. I hope you keep writing. Would love to read some more articles by you.Recommend

  • rachaelfernandes

    If they really want a positive life style then they should start changing themselves. Have you ever seen a transgender selling something on footpaths or have you ever seen them earning from a good way. Why they always choose to become a beggar? If they want to change themselves then they have to first educate themselves. There are people earning their livelihood from working in different parts of the city but people who choose beggaring and prostitution are addicted of easy money. Who has stopped them to get educated ?Recommend

  • Rehan

    good job!Recommend

  • Irfan

    I really appreciate that you touch this issue in your article.
    In my opinion, specially as Pakistani, we don’t give preferences to our issues, we live in the society where compromise is a noble thing, yes it is good to be thankful to almighty but taking everything for granted and leave it by saying “Allah Malik hey” “Inshallah, sab theek hojaega” Its not going to help..
    Similarly this kind of approach makes us somehow relying on others… It is weakness & disability and thats what exactly hurting us. First, We have to fight within ourselves and believe ourselves, then with the society. You cannot change anyone by preaching or telling them what is right &what is wrong…
    One have to change with hearts and minds…
    (Perhaps many will not agree but ‘think about it’ )Recommend

  • Zainab Bhatti

    We always talk about how it is essential for others to change themselves. You are right, and there does exist this problem. However, the point I am trying to address over here is whether we are playing our part or not. And unfortunately, we haven’t been doing that job. All the organizations currently working in the development sector for the rights of the transgender population are owned by a transgender individual. Most of us do not even regard this as an issue that needs to be addressed.Recommend

  • Umer Khawer

    Well said Zainab you are true at every part of the article. The only problem we have is the Hypocrite society we live in. The society that is always busy mocking others only because they want to hide their own flaws. You’re right we havent played our part at all. We did looked down upon them. Never got along or opened our hearts for Transgenders, Cross-Dressers or even Gays. People feel embarrassed even if they have to communicate with them. I hope and pray that you’re article go viral. May God bless you.Recommend

  • Umer Khawer

    who has stopped them from getting educated? oh well Rachael tell me this would u be comfortable if you have a transgender is sitting with you while you are taking your lectures, or if you have to work with one. I am pretty sure you wont be. and thats exactly why they dont get educated because they are always looked down upon. They dont have rights, resources or any other privilege you’re born with.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    A slight correction..

    The article gives a wrong impression that transgender people are who they are because of gender identity disorder (GID), but not all transgender people have GID.

    Being trans-gender, like cis-gender, is regarded as a normal condition and not a disorder, per se. People might develop GID when they are made to suppress their gender identity because it does not match their assigned gender (like a transgender woman who is forced to wear men’s clothing because of societal pressure, eventually becoming severely depressed or anxious).

    Other than that, your article is spot on. We need more pieces like these. Thank you for raising awareness about transgender rights!Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Always exercise caution when accusing financially-insecure, socially-rejected, barely enfranchised people of “not educating themselves”. They don’t share your privileges. We don’t want to sound elitist, do we?

    The society treats transgender people as a joke, and expects them to “stay in their place” as roadside entertainment. They aren’t keen on doing business with the transgender community, because that involves humanizing it.Recommend

  • Abdullah

    Love the article. This is so true. We shouldn’t be looking down upon these people. You have taken a very good step by pointing out this issue. Well said.Recommend

  • Ameer Mukhtar

    very elaborated and true story of transgender problem is depicted by Miss zainab . unfortunately its bad reality that our nation specially male society is very reluctant to understand that these peoples are creation of a same God . Basically these poeples are not laughing on that shemale but Naazobbillah they are laughing on the creation of their God . Our goverment should give them due share in every aspect whether its job , sport, competetive exam or politicsRecommend

  • Ameer Mukhtar

    dear u commented very well except one word that did not suit and not allowed in muslim society and being muslim we should reject it strongly Gays systemRecommend

  • usama

    Amazing article, and one of the many issues the whole country can unite on. Brilliant.Recommend

  • Muhammad Talha

    All of this is so true. And it could only happen if we begin to acknowledge them on a thoroughly egilitarian basis without giving into our predijuce. Amazing!Recommend

  • Hussain Idrees

    Given the state of the current economy, as well as the lack of resources our country has, this issue is just adding to the wastage of resources. Our actions are making these people go towards beggary. We can change their mindset if we want to. However, we are not even willing to accept the ones who are willing to do something for themselves, sadly. You really should write more on social issues. You have a knack for it.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    Not long ago, they were called “eunuchs”. When you come across such a one, how do you know whether he/she was like that from birth or was castrated by a gang to earn money by begging? Such people were used by feudal lords (like the rulers of Turkey) go guard their wives and mistresses (the assumption being that being neutral, they wouldn’t be able to have sex). I once read that a eunuch once occupied a very powerful position as adviser to the sultan of Turkey during the Ottoman era. I also understand that the common people of Pakistan think that eunuchs are “special” people and giving charity to them is obligatory. And this is perhaps why they turn to begging to earn their living.Recommend

  • Zainab Bhatti

    That’s true. One can never know. But maybe by giving them their rights and not treating them as someone ‘special’, we would be able to make some difference.Recommend

  • Syed Shiraz Anwar

    I haven’t gone through the whole article here (in fact not at all), but I suppose its another cliche in discussing a moral issue that subtly disguises the authors much needed infatuation to get published.

    Its not the first time and wont be the last when someone would waste words in highlighting these discriminatory issues and readers trying to look concerned. But fact is as much as I protest for their rights I would never want to share a rickshaw or sit next to them on a but (true story). I am not an elitist if anything I have low self-esteem issues but even them I shiver when one of them pops their head in at a signal and I could feel their breath on my face when they talk, “Haye pappu kuch dey jaaanaaaa”

    Why do they have to talk like that? I mean am I a bad person to find such disgraced behavior unacceptable with their annoying clapping hands? I mean you can only blame a society that much for being unfair to them.Recommend

  • MOHD DANYAL BEHLIM

    “We are all hypocrites. We cannot see ourselves or judge ourselves the way we see and judge others.”Recommend

  • zeenat

    Here poachers will always
    be the gamekeepers–apples never grow on cactus–sermonisation helps little–Recommend

  • Morgane Oger

    I am transgender and I am an engineer working in software security in Canada. I respect that different cultures have their own structures and that those structures are complex and have very large inertia. There is no relationship between gender identity and ability to participate fully in society that comes from the gender issue directly. The cause of transgender persons throughout the world failing to meet their full potentual is their socisty’s refusal to accept many of us. This stems frim fear and ignorance aloneRecommend

  • Farah

    Yes, there’s a dire need for the so-called educated lot to show some civility towards the Eunuchs. Having said that, I’d say that let alone them, our people don’t show general respect towards humanity, so there’s a lot to consider and achieve Zainab. Our people have not surpassed the religious differences as of now therefore, this issue is on the far edge of the list of priority of RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE.
    I appreciate your effort of voicing on their behalf. Of course they are as much a part of our society as are we and above all they are merely HUMANS.
    Job well done, friend!Recommend

  • Farrukh Mughal

    Today I admitted on my Facebook account that I am a transgender myself. And it feels great.Recommend