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When a transgender was buried in an imambargah

Updated Nov 19, 2016 04:08pm

This article was originally published on February 1, 2016

Legendary Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib had once suggested in one of his verses that he would like to see a Brahmin buried in the Ka’aba.

I don’t know whether the Lund Baloch tribe of Mirpur Khas ever read Ghalib, but they partially fulfilled his wish by burying a Brahmin in their imambargah.

Even though the Brahmin in question had embraced Islam by then, some Muslims residing in the area had objected to the burial of a convert in the vicinity of the imambargah.

Let me recap that for you.


In Mirpur Khas’ Na’ai Parra (Barbers’ Colony) lived a young transgender named Sukh Dev, born into a Hindu-Brahmin family. He was six-feet tall with a broad forehead and big eyes, which shone with kindness. He was a compassionate person, and loved children.

The temple in Na'ai Parra.
The temple in Na'ai Parra.

The main gate of the temple.
The main gate of the temple.

Sukh Dev and his family members would regularly pray at the Hindu temple near their house. Less than a stone's throw away from the temple stood the Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari in an imambargah.

After the Partition, Sukh Dev migrated to India with his elder brother, but yearning for his birthplace, he soon returned to Mirpur Khas to take up residence in the Barbers’ Quarters.

The outside view of the Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari.
The outside view of the Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari.

Many people come to pray at the shrine.
Many people come to pray at the shrine.

Sukh Dev then converted to Islam and assumed an Islamic name, Abdullah. Being uncharacteristically beautiful, the local people gave him the nickname, Sohni. Gradually, the name evolved into Sohni Faqeer (Sohni, the beggar), as did references to his gender.

Sohni Faqeer.
Sohni Faqeer.

Childless women would often come to Sohni to get sacred wristbands and talismans. Many women would invite Sohni to marriage and circumcision ceremonies. Sohni Faqeer also named all the newborn babies in the area; and showered blessings upon everyone.

A plaque bearing the reconstruction of the shrine.
A plaque bearing the reconstruction of the shrine.

After her conversion, Sohni Faqeer, née Sukh Dev, showed little interest in the Hindu temple but she took it upon herself to look after the imambargah. She renovated the structure and made arrangements for an annual festival over there — the expenditure of which was borne by the local transgender community.

One day, Sohni Faqeer sent for two elders of the Lund Baloch tribe, Chacha Allah Rakhio and Murtaza Lund, requesting a meeting, as she was critically ill. After offering their prayers, the two men immediately left for her house.

Sohni Faqeer asked them, “Do you think I have served the imambargah well?”

“The imambargah is maintained by you and the rest of the Khwaja saras (transgenders),” said Rakhio.

“Is it possible that I be buried in the vicinity of the imambargah after my death?”

Taken aback, both men said they needed to consult with the Baloch community before promising anything to her.

Two days later, Rakhio was informed that Sohni Faqeer had departed from the world. He promptly summoned all the young and old members of the Lund Baloch community to convey to them Sohni’s last wish. Everyone agreed that since Sohni had served the imambargah so diligently, she deserved to be buried in its vicinity.

A house belonging to transgenders in Mirpur Khas.
A house belonging to transgenders in Mirpur Khas.

A group of transgenders living in the house.
A group of transgenders living in the house.

Some of the locals, however, protested the decision, albeit mildly, saying that it would be wrong to bury a transgender near a Sufi saint. But the Lund Balochs overruled the naysayers and gave Sohni the burial that she had requested.

If you visit the imambargah, you will see devotees heading straight to Sohni’s grave to offer fateha before they enter the main Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari to offer votive prayers.

Sohni Faqeer's grave at the Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari.
Sohni Faqeer's grave at the Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari.

As for the ancient temple in Na’ai Parra, it used to be a desolate place but today it is home to Muslims who had migrated from India. It is to their credit that the building's structure has not been altered; the plaque fixed above the central door has not been vandalised till date. Approximately, 3,000 square yards of land surrounding the structure have been appropriated to building houses for Muslims.


Translated by Arif Anjum in English from the original in Urdu here. | Photos by Imran Shaikh