Lesser humans?

December 01, 2019

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TEN years ago, Pakistan made history with a landmark Supreme Court verdict that officially recognised a third gender. Then in May 2018, the National Assembly passed the historic Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. Under this law, individuals who do not fall into the male/female gender binary are guaranteed the right to self-identification, to have that identity recognised on all their legal documents, and to be safeguarded against discrimination. Further, the law guarantees the transgender community the same constitutional rights as any other citizen of the state, including “fundamental rights to inheritance, education, employment, vote, hold public office, health, assembly, and access to public spaces and property”. In the general elections that same year, several members of the transgender community participated as contestants.

But despite all these legal gains, the community continues to suffer horrific violence, often with little hope for justice: rape, kidnappings, sexual exploitation, violent attacks and murder. In one of the most recent instances, a transgender person was raped and tortured at gunpoint in Sahiwal in September. Almost exactly a year before that, another transwoman was found outside a taxi stand with burns on 80pc of her body in Sahiwal. She died on the way to a hospital in Lahore. There have even been instances where medical staff would not attend to a transgendered patient; a morgue would refuse to keep the body of a transperson; or a government contractor would not fulfil his duty of burying the body. A recent article published in this paper highlighted the trials and tribulations of a transgender beauty salon owner, but many others continue to have difficulty finding employment, and resort to begging at traffic signals. Then there are other forms of daily humiliation, where someone’s identity becomes the butt of a ‘joke’, or a snide remark. So while transgenders as a community may have equal rights on paper, they are still treated as second-class citizens and lesser human beings.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2019