Religious parties’ opposition to rights act concerns transgender community

Published September 24, 2022
Rights activist Nayab Ali speaks at a press conference at the National Press Club on Friday. — White Star
Rights activist Nayab Ali speaks at a press conference at the National Press Club on Friday. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: The transgender community on Friday slammed religious elements in the country who are opposing the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights), Act (2018).

Addressing a news conference in the National Press Club, transgender community representative Nayab Ali said that the law guarantees all fundamental rights of the transgender community of Pakistan, but it was being attacked by far right members of society.

The Parliament of Pakistan approved the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in May 2018, which included the support of all political parties in Pakistan.

However, almost all prominent religious political groups were opposing the law that has already been enacted in 2018 under the PTI-led government.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018, bill was approved by the National Assembly and Senate with the approval of all mainstream political parties in the Parliament.

Activist says law is needed as transgender persons are entitled to equal rights

However, the current controversy related to the law emerged after Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) submitted amendments to the law and even challenged the law in the Federal Shariat Court (FSC). He is of the opinion that this bill was an attempt to give legal protection to homosexuality in the country. Meanwhile, Nayab Ali criticised religious groups and said this assumption was incorrect.

As the vast majority of people from the transgender community prefer to be called “Ms” therefore Ms Nayab said that violence against the transgender community has increased in recent months, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Incidents include killings and there has been a systematic campaign against the transgender community to deprive them of their rights.

“Such a law was needed as we too are the citizens of this state – and this entitles us for equal rights to education, health facilities, have the transgender identity on our identity cards, passports that would allow us to own property and businesses,” Ms Ali said, adding, “These rights will allow us to opt for a decent life instead of being second class entertainers only.”

The transgender community however says that false propaganda has been unleashed against the Transgender Protection Act, lamenting that labelling those fighting for equal rights for transgender people as “homosexuals” was tantamount towards committing cruelty against them.

“The real issue is that this bill grants us the right to vote and contest elections and that is why religious people are afraid of us that we might contest elections against them and even win with the support of the Pakistanis,” Nayab Ali added.

Speakers said that the assumption against the law which implied that it promotes “same-sex marriage” was absolutely false as this is illegal under Pakistani law anyway.

“I advise the critics of the law to read it first, as the law was based on medical grounds, besides the law was finalised after parliamentarians examined cultural and religious grounds in this regard too,” Nayab said, adding that extremist minorities in Pakistani society were trying to challenge the law which was enacted after collective wisdom as well as the will of the majority of this country.

“I am sure that the attempt to show that this law was un-Islamic will be proven wrong in the Federal Shariat Court as they will not find any of their arguments credible,” Nayab said.

While there are several serious oppositions to the law by some groups, leader of Majlis Wahdat i Muslimeen Allama Nasir Abbas on Friday said that trans-gender persons were a respectable part of society and they should have basic rights available to all other men and women in the country.

“But we need to have necessary amendments to Section 3 of the Transgender Protection Act 2018, because the law states that a person should determine their gender identity according to his/ her imagination and will,” he said, adding, “This could lead to inappropriate behaviour in society.”

While Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said that the law is against the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah and added that he would submit amendments to it in Parliament.

Amir Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan Sirajul Haq said that the Transgender Act was against Sharia.

Incidentally, Senator Mohsin Aziz of the PTI too has expressed opposition to the law and even claimed that it was approved when his party was in power due to lack of awareness over the issue.

He too has submitted amendments against the law, but added that the transgender community should be given their rights as equal citizens.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2022

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