LAHORE: Anmol Shah Bukhari, Sahiwal president of the transgender community, reaches for a sheaf of papers. She rummages through them till she sees what she is looking for.

“I have personally registered 78 transgender persons in Sahiwal district while the Social Welfare Department has registered 297,” she reads.

She looks up, grimly. “In my personal opinion the transgender person (in question here) did not belong to Sahiwal and it seems like a murder case to me,” she says.

She is speaking about a video with extremely disturbing content that surfaced online a few days ago. In it a man is seen badly burnt from head to toe, wearing nothing but a ragged piece of cloth on his pelvic area. He does not say a word but can be heard whimpering and moaning in severe pain. It can also be seen that he is taken away on a stretcher.

It was only after the postmortem was carried out that it was discovered that he was a transperson.

While Anmol as well as other transgender activists feel that it is murder, police may not be entirely convinced, especially since the postmortem report adds that no clear smell of any ignitable substance emanated from the body.
In fact, police believe the transperson was an addict who set fire accidentally to herself.

“We spoke to the people around the area and they all feel it was a drug addict sitting under a tree, although no one knows for sure.”

So who was Majid alias Qasim?

“Majid must have been his birth name, and Qasim a nickname,” says Anmol. Transpersons often change their names. But while no one has claimed the body, Anmol is sure that he did not belong to Sahiwal.

“He could have been dumped here, or he could have moved here, but he is definitely from outside,” she says.

Sure enough activist Jannat Ali says that it is common for transpersons to shift places if they are under threat by anyone – their family, gangsters, or live-in partners.

Anmol has tried to reach across neighbouring districts to see if anyone is missing. She has tried through the grapevine as well as the social welfare department and is still awaiting any news.

“In today’s day and age I cannot believe that any khwajasirah would not be carrying a cell phone,” she says. “There is also no trace of CNIC so that is something to see also. Maybe it has been stolen?”

Rumours are afloat of the transgender being forcibly abducted by a gang of men, and set alight when refusing to give sexual services. But no eyewitness has seen anyone attack.

Anmol feels they may have been threatened because it was broad daylight at Mall Mandi when the incident happened and could not have been missed.

But their belief of it being murder has a grain of truth in it. “Ninety per cent of khwajasirahs are murdered because of (cisgender) live-in partners,” activist Almas Bobby was quick to say in a video released online on Tuesday.

“Why did police bury him so fast? Could they not have called us in for any kind of identification?”

Police argue that the body was deteriorating and there was no cold storage facility available. Plus the postmortem report was not released until Sept 9, and so they did not even know whether he was a transgender person till then – even though Nayab Ali, a transgender politician, believes it is strange that the police were so ignorant about anything at all.

A DHQ doctor explains that the victim was first given a tracheotomy so he could breathe properly and was afterwards taken to Lahore. But he complains about police ineptitude as no details were given prior to the postmortem by the accompanying police officer about what procedures were performed on the victim, what was the timing of his death, etc.

“As always they have not been very efficient,” he says. “Or else they knew everything but tried to hush up the matter. It is strange though that a person gets burnt to death on a main road at daytime yet no one knows how.”

Nayab Ali adds that it may even be fear of police who, she says, often harass the community even more when they are investigating a case, sometimes extorting hundreds of thousands from them, calling in their respected elders, pinning the blame on friends who share homes with the victim, and often even abusing them.

DPO Mubasher Maiken insists police are working on the case without taking any sides. “Even if the body is unidentified and has been buried, the case is not closed,” he says.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2018