Where eunuchs aren’t allowed to party

Published: June 30, 2010
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. We shudder when they approach, cringe when they touch and breathe a sigh of relief when they walk away

History – or Pakistan Studies – has taught us many things; most of which we know because it was stuffed down our throats. While retaining only the fourth of the founding father’s fourteen points is no profound achievement, it is a rejoinder that the mainstream education system still thrives on rote. And for that, it deservedly gets thrashed.

Alas, not all the thrashing handed out in this land of the pure tends to be deserved. Corporal punishment is still a murky subject; not even considering gas stoves that continue to blow up – fatally – in the faces of unsuspecting housewives while women’s & human rights’ activists’ clamor that 90 per cent of women in the country experience some form of domestic abuse. This is in spite of us having had a woman head of state. The fact remains: outside and even in urban centers, women can be silenced & children locked up. Or vice versa.

When such a big chunk of the population can be stripped of their rights, what happens to those who are further down on this patriarchal, (often)-religiously-sanctified, (mainly)-chauvinistic ladder of perception?

The bottomless pit

The worst off among these groups of the disenfranchised are people without a gender; fellow beings whom we refer to as ‘hijras’ in everyday speech. We shudder when they approach, cringe when they touch and breathe a sigh of relief when they walk away. Obviously, a small minority, which is not necessarily the civil minority, is sensitive to their plight. But that rarely translates into little more than loose change.

And why should it? There are greater evils in the world for us to contend with like Uncle Sam and Israel. But if charity has to begin at home, why isn’t it the same in the case of declarations of universal concern?

So far, the declarations have been sporadic: CJ’s order to issue the transgender community identity cards and employment opportunities in government. But even the CNICs have been a compromise as the usually efficient NADRA has failed to add a third gender to their list of options. Their default sex is male.

The bigger problem, however, has not been declarations but actions. Mostly, the transgendered community, that is economically, educationally, socially and politically marginalized, faces challenges in maintaining any form of systematic pressure on the system to highlight their plights. With their limited organizational and planning abilities, their efforts lose steam before it has had any mark on our collectively flippant attention spans.

One man, though, has a longer attention span than our everyday black-coat. Muhammad Aslam Khaki, a barrister from Islamabad, filed the petition in the Supreme Court against the discriminations faced by the transgendered community in nearly all walks of life. But he is just one man.

Bindiya Shining

Bindya is one of the main spokespersons for her community. She runs an NGO – Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) – that does welfare work for her people. However, she has no established source of funding, she doesn’t have an office, and she can’t afford to hire staff and has to bear the administrative costs herself. Whatever welfare work she has been able to do, it has been due to philanthropic interventions.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only does GIA lack the wherewithal to perform any valuable function for the community, it also often ends up at the wrong end of the state’s law-enforcement machinery and administrative apparatus. (Like the rest of us.)

Case in point: The Khwaja Sira community likes to have fortnightly congregations at community halls to sing, dance and frolic in the name of celebrating birthdays. Their location of choice tends to be the hall at the Liaquat National Library.

But their last get-together or GT – if you permit – went sour as they were first fleeced by the administrators who took money for holding the event without permitting them legally to host the event. If only that was the end of their problems, for the New Town Police showed up soon after and they, too, demanded money. And we all know how it ends when you don’t give the police what they want.

According to Bindya, she and her fellow community members spent the half the night in prison haggling, fighting and pleading. They ended the night poorer and without having the GT. And this isn’t an odd instance but a usual occurrence. Bindya says she is often woken up in the middle of the night to go and rescue a Khwaja Sira who is being held up in a police station.

An Analogy

As if often quipped about Pakistan, the country has hit rock bottom and the only way now is up. The same could be said about the khwaja sira community. However, the last few years has made most of us re-question the ‘rock bottom’ theory.

It has also given rise to a sentiment that there has been enough bickering and railing against the system, the politicians, army, police et al. and now, citizens (not necessarily the civil minority) need to step up their game.

It doesn’t even require universal declarations condemning Israeli or American outrage. Just small steps like hiring khwaja siras as domestic help, maids, cooks etc. Provide them with an alternative source of revenue. Rather than treating them disdainfully and dismissively, there needs to be a concentrated effort to integrate them into society.

Maybe the over-enthusiastic, over-hyped, gigantic youth chunk of the population pie can take the lead. Help GIA and similar welfare organisations become better equipped and more organized. And we don’t have to wait for the day Pakistan emerges out of third-world wilderness for such NGOs to get office space.

Hussain Dada

Hussain Dada

A free-lance journalist (who does not blog or tweet) based in Karachi. He is currently working for a social consultancy.

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