LAHORE: Khushi holds up an arm that was burnt with acid five years ago but the scars and pain are still alive in her heart.

A transwoman, Khushi, has spent her life dancing and performing in private parties. But such functions pose the greatest harm to the transgender community as there is little or no protection for it in the male-dominated gatherings where violence often breaks out.

On Nov 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance was marked by some of those transgender persons who are aware enough to speak for their rights.

Jannat Ali, an MBA, who has been an integral part of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018, says that the day marks the tragedy of so many members of the community who have been killed because of their gender identity.

“The violence against us has always been there. But if there is a law that Pakistan proudly brought out some years ago, we don’t understand why it is not being fully implemented?” she asks.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 was enacted unanimously but the implementation process has been challenging.

“The notifications have not yet been given to the departments concerned,” informs Jannat. “The law’s rules are still not out. How can it ever be implemented?”

She says they are currently working on criminal amendments that will ensure that the culprits receive enough punishment in order to prevent such crimes in the future.

In two of the well-known cases, both of which took place in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, a shooting incident took life of Gul Panra who was part of a group of transgender performers leaving a wedding venue after her performance. Another transgender person, Chahat, died in hospital after receiving bullet wounds.

Activists say over 69 transpersons have been violently killed in KP since 2015 while Jannat says the number must have been even higher as only the better known reports surface in the media. She says the media reports don’t count those against whom murder attempts have been made or those who have received serious injuries because of hate crime.

“We don’t want to indulge in fights because we know what the police will say and do, we know we won’t have any support. This is why we stay away from such scenes. But these people themselves create a situation where they exploit, abuse and then eventually kill us,” says Khushbu, another transperson, says referring to the criminals, mostly men, who use them for sexual services or they are spurned lovers.

“If there are laws for women, why not for us?” she asks Suffering a jilted lover’s wrath, senior activist Laila Naz mentioned how he had flung scaling water on her legs, which ended up in her not being able to walk for the longest time. It took away the only thing she could do – dance. Later, she joined a non-government organisation (NGO) focused on working for transgender persons.

Such cases are common in the community. Even those with awareness end up shacking up with people who rob them and flee or subject them to domestic violence. But reporting the incident to the police leaves them feeling more like suspects than victims, they say.

“There is no assurance of a penalty. Until our cases are registered without bias by police, things will never change,” says Mahnoor Chaudhry of the Khawaja Sira Society (KSS). “The attitude and mindset of society cannot change overnight but some kind of legal framework must exist to, at least, stop the people from crossing boundaries,” she suggests.

(Names of some transgender persons have been changed.)

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020

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