EVERY being has the right to a life of dignity.

For the subcontinent’s transgender community, this right was eroded by the ethnocentrism of the British Raj that codified their status in 1871 as a ‘criminal tribe’ inherently ‘addicted’ to crime.

In many ways, our nation has yet to correct this divergence from our tolerant roots to the systemic discrimination of trans Pakistanis.

There are glimmers of hope, however, and with it the hope that these glimmers could be signs of a broader commitment.

One such sign this week was the inauguration of Pakistan’s first school for trans people in Lahore, with plans to open more schools in Karachi and Islamabad.

The school is dedicated to providing education from primary level to matriculation, and technical and vocational training, for trans people of all ages — a welcome step to ensure that adults, too, can access education hitherto denied to them, and with it the opportunity for gainful employment.

Such initiatives by civil society and NGOs deserve to be lauded, but should not lull our elected representatives into complacency.

The existence of specialised private services is an indictment of their failure to ensure trans Pakistanis’ access to mainstream public services.

The task of righting the wrongs of our colonial past — and enabling trans Pakistanis to move out of the margins and into the mainstream — requires progressive codification of its own.

Last month, the Senate passed such legislation in the form of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017.

The bill defines a trans person as anyone who self-identifies as having non-binary gender, and that any such person has inalienable fundamental rights, including the right to free and compulsory education as per Article 25-A of the Constitution.

This is affirmatively guaranteed through anti-discrimination provisions, admission quotas in both public and private higher education institutes, and supplementary vocational training programmes.

Its passage in the National Assembly and enactment by the president must be expedited before it is allowed to lapse upon parliament’s dissolution.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018

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