KARACHI: Having spent her life as a social outcast for more than 15 years, Sajid Hussain, a transgender now known as Laila, today finds no reason to live any longer in the largely conservative society.
She says she believes even her death will not grieve her family and it is for this reason that she has collected money for her burial and wants to entrust it to someone who will use it in accordance with her will.
“I even thought of having narban (getting castrated) a few months ago so that I could attain a better status in my community. But my sangat (close friends) convinced me that it’s a major sin and I shouldn’t spoil the life hereafter,” she says impassively.
Belonging to a small village in Bhawalpur district, Laila grew up working as a domestic help. According to her, her long interaction with women and biological deficiencies made her feel like one of them.
“I was the eldest among my siblings and started working at an early age since my father was not interested in supporting the family. He had a bad temper and used to beat my mother and the children at home.
“If my father had accepted me the way I was or had told me with love that what I was doing was wrong, I would have felt embarrassed on being a heejrah (transvestite). But that never happened and my life was ruined,” she laments.
An abusive relationship with a man further let her down and the desire to live on died somewhere, Laila says, adding that the only thing that can give a meaning to her life now is a respectable job such as nursing elderly people or that of a babysitter.
And, this is what her mother, Raheema, also wants her to do.
Raheema never objected to Laila’s behaviour as according to the former everyone accepted her the way she was.
“A doctor told me that your son lacked male prowess. Everyone called him a heejrah and I accepted it,” she said.
Zahoor, also known as Shazia, Laila’s friend with whom she spends her entire day, has somewhat a happier life. “This is all because of my parents who loved me too much despite my way of life that society looks down upon.”
Recalling his childhood, Zahoor says that people used to tease and call him heejrah that hurt him a lot. Although he went to school and studied up to Class VI, he could not learn anything, except writing his name, because the headmaster of his school used to send him to his home to work, he recalls.
Zahoor claims his parents helped him get married twice. His first wife died, he says, adding that his second wife married him of her own choice and still loves him.
“The fact that I have children is a proof that I am a complete man, biologically, though my heart is of a woman. I never went out with my wife as it makes me feel embarrassed,” he says, admitting that he also had relationship with other men.
While Zahoor/Shazia lives in Karachi where he earns an income by seeking alms at shrines, his family is settled in Sargodha.
Explaining the reason for living separate from the family, he says that people would make his children’s life hell by teasing about their father.
“I don’t want to trouble them and know the truth. They know that their father is different and earns money by dancing in functions, but they don’t know that I beg. Besides, I am concerned that urban life could spoil them,” he says.
The heejrah community
Members of the heejrah community say that though discrimination and stigma affect them at every level, it is even more painful when they are denied education and health facilities that limit their chances to live a better life.
The Supreme Court’s orders for their welfare and recognition last year was a ray of hope, they recall.
Recent interviews with a number of transgender persons and individuals working with non-governmental organisations providing health and social services to the community show that the community comprises many different people who joined the group for different reasons.
A vast majority is perceived to have masculine bodies who take on feminine appearance to earn money through begging, have drugs and free sexual life. Perhaps it is for this reason that the number of transgender persons has dramatically increased over the past 10 to 15 years.
Most transsexuals grow breasts with the help of hormonal injections while some of those with abnormal genitals even go for a medical operation to get their reproductive organs removed. The treatment is said to be carried out in highly unhygienic conditions and at times causes death.
Then, there are transgender persons suffering from a psychological disorder believing that they belonged to the wrong gender.
Only a very small number of people are actually born with a condition called intersex — a group of conditions that occur when there is a discrepancy between the appearance of external genitalia and internal reproductive organs.
“Only people with intersex condition deserve employment opportunities by the government. In fact they should be given the status of a special person and offered privileges as in the case of special persons. A majority of those in the transgender community are of those who want to have a free life and enjoy drugs and sex,” says Mirza Aleem Baig, heading the Gender and Reproductive Health Forum.