KARACHI: A round-table discussion on the plight of transgender people on Tuesday turned out to be an honest discussion about the kind of treatment meted out to this community by society and how they felt about it.
The event was organised by the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) at a local hotel to explore the possibilities of legislation and a suitable policy to safeguard the rights of the transgender community at the national and provincial level.
“First we didn’t have computerised national identity cards (CNICs) so we couldn’t even vote. Al Qaeda [men] could get their identity cards made here but it was a no for us because they didn’t know what to write for us under the column of gender. I myself had to struggle for three years before getting my ID card,” said Bindiya Rana, founder and president of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA).
“And when they did give us CNICs it read ‘shemale’ in the gender column. You give us something but also insult us as you do it. Man or woman, everyone has equal rights. So what about us who may be human beings but don’t fall in either of the gender brackets?” she asked.
“Now the [population] census is coming up and we have been told that there are around 950 transgender persons in Punjab. But we have 28,000 forms of transgender persons for the issuance of CNICs alone, which proves that the figures being provided by the government are not correct,” she said.
Looking around at the other participants of the dialogue, many of whom happened to be women’s rights activists, she said: “I know how hard you all have fought for your rights. We also struggle for our rights but are still fighting for the very basics such as not knowing where our next meal is coming from, how to pay our utility bills, in general, how to earn a decent living. People offer us jobs as cooks or nannies but for meagre salaries. Here people are offended even if we board the same bus as them. And taxi fare is so expensive that we can’t afford it.”
Kami Chaudhry, who has formed her own organisation, Subrung, also pointed out that the word ‘shemale’ was a pejorative. “It is not for us. It offends us. If you must call us anything at all, then ‘transgender’ will do.
“But our issue is not really getting ID cards, it is getting respect. This society really needs to be sensitised,” she said, adding that ‘other’ was a better option for CNICs instead of ‘shemale’ in the gender column.
Highlighting their difficulties, she said that trouble found them the moment they were discovered as not being normal physically.
“Our own parents throw us out of our homes. But I urge parents to please don’t do that to their own flesh and blood. Once out on the streets we are exposed to all kinds of dangers. Acceptance is very important for us. Please accept us for what we are. And we are human beings first just like anyone else here,” she said.
“If you say that we are sex workers and should be shunned for it, you should know that transgender people are not the only sex workers around. And it is a fact that we only get into that kind of thing when all other ways of earning are taken from us,” she said.
Sumair Ali Khan said that the moment parents realised something was wrong with their sons, they try to get them married.
“We get bullied throughout our lives, which is why many of us prefer staying in the closet. It also is a cause of anxiety and depression found in our kind,” he said. “I, for one, got education. I am a graphic designer. I can afford to get counselling from a psychiatrist for my anxieties and depression but all of us cannot, obviously.”
Eminent psychiatrist Dr Syed Haroon Ahmed said that in his practice of 50 years he had seen parents bringing him their transgender sons or daughters to help remove their confusion about their gender, but no transgender person has approached him to be treated for anxiety. “I wonder why it is so,” he said.
Retired Justice Majida Rizvi, who is the chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, said that there was a need for creating a quota for jobs and education of transgender persons.
Nuzhat Kidvai of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) said that her organisation endorsed all of the demands being made by the transgender community. “These are our demands too. WAF will work with you,” she said.
Mahnaz Rehman of the Aurat Foundation wanted the role of a psychiatrist there when drafting a policy for transgender community.
Justice Kailash Nath Kohli said that every citizen of Pakistan was entitled to his or her rights according to the Constitution and transgender persons were also citizens of this country.
Anis Haroon said that since the issues were being highlighted they will also be addressed.
Social Welfare Minister Shamim Mumtaz said that the coming census would focus on head count of citizens, not their gender.
She also said they would soon have six community centres in the six divisions of Karachi to facilitate transgender community. Apart from this she wanted transgender people to take chef, nursing and other courses and find jobs on merit too besides getting them under the two per cent quota allowed to them.
Finally, NCHR Chairman retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan, while reading out the recommendations, also suggested that the government offer some scholarships for transgender persons to help them get ahead in education.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2017