Situationer: Living with violence

Updated 23 Aug 2018


LET’s exhume Nazo but we don’t know where she is buried. After her family refused to accept her remains, it was Edhi — that saint in death as he was in life — whose workers washed the broken parts of her before her burial with dignity.

Let’s raise Nazo, but she won’t stand up because she is shattered, cut from limb to limb into so many pieces. How will she now dance there if she was granted a place in heaven? She whose identity in this world is of a moorat — the unfinished-likeness of a woman who spends a lifetime dancing in temples. Dance as worship, dance as prayer, imploring stone idols so that a god, or a man, moved by her devotion and longing, may turn her into a woman. Or accept her as one in soul, if not body.

But bodies define us, our perception of a man and a woman is the sex and gender associated with them. A soul is unseen, a sense of self-invisible unless declared; they bloom or wither in imperceptible psyches. That may or may not be the lexical context of the word moorat, the dancing effigy, the unfinished woman. But can we deny that it is the transwoman’s state, indeed her dilemma, in this world?

Let’s bring her back from heaven and ask her: “What’s it like to be a transgender in heaven? Cut up, yes, shattered, yes, but done with the anguish of existence here?”

What, Nazo, is it like to be a transwoman in heaven? Because to be one here in Pakistan is certainly hell.

She went to sleep that night a vision of herself, a moorat and 21. Did she dream that night? We don’t know for there is little a young transwoman, ostracised by family and marginalised by the system and society, can look forward other than the next function — a dance performance at a wedding or a party. Begging, performing and prostitution are the only means of sustenance in the face of cultural, structural and religious impediments that deny dignity, potential and opportunity. But even if she did dream that night, she woke up a gruesome, hacked vision of herself.

Late that night she had returned from a performance, back to her digs here at Bara Road in Peshawar. She sat up with others in her community, chatting into the small hours. That’s the cycle her life followed, as did others’ here — when not begging on roads daytime, they stayed up late performing. They went to bed early morning, woke up early evening, and spent the rest of it preparing for a function. That night Sadaqat brought her bread from the market. He was her boyfriend for 10 years. He called her to the room for breakfast. Everyone went to bed after that. No one heard anything when Sadaqat shot Nazo twice in the head as she slept. He then cut her up in pieces, stuffed her in plastic bags to dispose the remains later.

In the evening Spogmai, her guardian or guru, found her room locked and her phone off. When they couldn’t trace Nazo, one of her friends scaled the wall to peep into her window. She reported there was no one in there except bloated plastic bags lying by the fridge. That’s when they called the police.

Nazo was the 62nd transwoman killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2015. “Because no police officer or a doctor would have them, they end up with rickshaw-drivers, car-washers, gandairi wallahs and waiters,” says Farzana, a transgender activist in Peshawar. “Men who go through lives with their heads bent low because of their lowly stature turn into tigers when it comes to transwomen. It is the word hijra — they know they can do anything to us and get away with it. If only because no one — the parents, the police, the people — wants anything to do with us.”

That, too, then, is the transgender state — to live with violence or the fear of it in absence of support from the state and society. They are threatened and blackmailed, beaten and butchered, “stared at even when they go to a mosque to seek help” because they are polluted beings, forsaken by God and religion.

When a transwoman reports violence from a partner, the alternative dispute resolution system comes into play to protect perpetrators of violence. “The jirga, the community elders and the district nazims take responsibility to guarantee that violence won’t happen again,” says Qamar Naseem, a human rights activist. “And yet the culture ensures that it does.”

The Domestic Violence Bill proposed by the KP government is likely to cover transwomen but there is no provision on ground for rehabilitation, shelter, psycho-social support or legal aid.

The Human Rights Policy notified by governments in Punjab and KP include transgender rights as a thematic area, which makes it a legal obligation for authorities to protect them. There is also the provincial Transgender and Intersex Protection Policy, vetted by the provincial law department, but yet to see the light of day. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 has been passed by the National Assembly and Senate but under the 18th Amendment, the provinces need to do their own legislation.

There is also the matter of the legal status of the transgender. While Nadra acknowledges the transgender identity, the society’s understanding of gender is far from nuanced. This becomes problematic in police cases where they go by appearances — stripping transwomen to establish their identity and denying it in view of their gonadal status, which is where patriarchal biases and transphobia comes into play.

Now that the trees have dropped them, the rain has gathered and the wind has sucked, the crows have converged to pluck.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2018