Transpeople: moving beyond the physical

Updated 27 Sep 2020

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In this Jan 2019 file photo, a group of transgenders hold a silent protest demonstration over their miseries outside a court in Lahore. — Rana Bilal
In this Jan 2019 file photo, a group of transgenders hold a silent protest demonstration over their miseries outside a court in Lahore. — Rana Bilal

CAN a human being be diminished on the basis of basic biology? Many western social and psychological stu­dies conclude that sex is physical whereas gender is purely psychological. Here, the prevalent dismantling of an acutely marginalised community of transgenders is foun­ded on the former.

Take the killing of Angoori (Sabir), a 29-year-old who was found murdered in Rajput Colony, Gul­shan Iqbal, Karachi on August 26. A follower (chela) of Hina Pathan, 47, who has spent 22 years in the city, she lived on her own in the small transgender colony of Motimahal.

A distraught Hina recounts, “I was informed at 1am and we rushed to her quarter four lanes away from me. Her hands and feet were tied with thick ropes and her entire body was swollen. I assume that it was death by asphyxiation.”

Originally from Rahim Yar Khan, Angoori was a small player in the begging malaise; she had customers and participated in private dance programmes.

They only had Kami Sid to fall back on. Pakistan’s first transgender model, an activist and Executive Director of The Sabrang Society, Kami first catapulted into the human rights milieu when she joined the UNDP and worked with the Global Fund’s HIV-AIDS programme for 12 years. She has since emerged as a messiah for the beleaguered lower cadres of her community.

“I reached the Mobina Town police station and Angoori’s body had already been shifted to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital. Her family gave me permission for her post-mortem examination but her second guru, Nasreen, who took a percentage of the deceased’s earnings, refused to sign the form or pay for it.”

Kami oversaw the autopsy and handed over the corpse to her kin who arrived from Punjab. “I then made a detailed video with other transgenders about the impediments we face with the police and hospital authorities, which found space on a prominent television channel,” says Kami.

In stark contrast to Angoori’s lamentable tale stands Islamabad’s Julie — a prominent social media voice and human rights crusader, battling dark forces in her community. “I am alive because my videos are viral on social media and have support from the civil society, human rights organisations, the media and many in my fraternity [though] the mafia in my community with the collusion of police has left no stone unturned to destroy me. The legal battle is ongoing and so are daily threats to my life. It’s a life under fear; my activism is at stake,” explains Julie.

She has found slight relief in the knowledge that this week ASI Malik Mumtaz of Golra police station, allegedly her prime harasser, has been sent to Adiala jail on the charge of monthly extortion from a segment of transgenders.

Hers is a fierce voice against the age-old guru-chela nexus. “If these gurus take responsibility then why are there so many murders? The issue is poverty, not identity. Most sit on goldmines established through human trafficking, begging and sex slavery.”

Julie strongly believes that the reasons for random exterminations are economic. She says, “Our education and employment will put a lock on their influence. Our leaders are the ones we vote for.”

Her employer, Uzma Butt, is another resolute spokesperson at the helm of Forum For Dignity Initiative, which has a presence in Islamabad and Balochistan. “We focus on transpersons, young girls and women. The initiative targets reproductive and sexual health, political participation and leadership, peace and security in conflict zones.”

The pioneer believes in the inclusion of “women as representatives of the defenceless” in society. “We conduct workshops, seminars, confer with political influencers through ministries and promote a sensitised approach for and by the media,” she says. But she too admits to the perils of chalking a path to empowerment as the undertaking is seen as dissent.

For these reasons of rising oppression and debasement, the community recently set out to hold protests and demonstrations across the country. However, in Sindh, the goal has been definitive. Kami and her comrades traversed the depths of the province to seek redressal of the impending Sindh Transgender Protection Bill 2017 though at first glance the bill appears comprehensive. It mentions education, employment, positions in public office, right to inheritance and welfare from the government, transpeople nurse reservations.

“We have included grievances of the poor in the backwaters of Sindh as the 2017 model speaks solely to city dwellers. The first step was to have it translated in Urdu and carry out door-to-door communication to create an all encompassing treatise. The draft of Sindh Transgender Protection Policy Bill 2020 will guarantee liberty for new generations,” says Kami.

Their additions are valuable to say the least such as quotas in employment and education, including scholarships, recognition of the degrees of abuse such as shearing of the hair, acid attacks, mental and physical violations. Most significant is the proposal for a six-month jail term and a fine of Rs50,000 for forced begging.

“The chairperson of The Sindh Trans Commission must hail from the community and members can comprise political class and the rest of society.”

The vision is dramatically progressive — the shift from a worn out pity party to a vibrant foray into the mainstream has begun.

The United Kingdom acknowledges that most trans leaders control the narrative and life choices of the community, a view echoed by Uzma, Julie and Kami. Therefore, this is a collective battle cry for Transition — replace the sex in sexism with human.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2020