EASILY the most marginalised, Pakistan’s transgender community has seen acute oppression at the hands of family and society. It has weathered derision, exploitation and abandonment; as a result, employment opportunities for trans people have been inconsequential with marginal educational and healthcare support. Isolated, their lives hang in the balance as hostilities towards them often prove fatal. Against this dour backdrop, a riot of colour and cheer rang out loud in Karachi’s Hejra Festival on Friday. Trans persons turned up the flamboyance quotient and poured out in droves from across Pakistan to celebrate their presence with a powerful slogan: “existence, resistance and resilience”. The rally ended at the Arts Council of Pakistan, where participants spoke about their rights followed by a candlelight vigil.
As heartwarming as this event was, transgender people still have to contend with realities such as the one revealed in a Ministry of Human Rights report last year, which stated that the authorities failed to provide jobs to trans people in Sindh under the now imperilled Transgender Act, 2018, and figures for Punjab were insufficient for a conclusion. Perhaps, our ruling classes should, first, reconcile with the fact that transgender people are a vibrant segment of society who cannot be wished away. Second, they should learn from international measures: in India, digital transactions and instant payment interfaces enable transgender people to earn safely, whereas Vietnam’s new ‘ballroom culture’ grants mentors to trans people along with mental health and monetary support. Depressingly, Pakistan is furthest away from such initiatives. The EU-funded Trans Murder Monitoring project says that last year Pakistan reported 10 murders per year whereas Forbes termed 2021 “the deadliest year” with 375 killings. Small wonder then that on the same festive Friday, Ghazal was stabbed to death in Tehkal, near Peshawar. Complete joy will evade them until accountability becomes certain for slain trans lives. After all, what are they being faulted for?
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2023