ISLAMABAD     -    The coalition government partners have different positions on the Transgender Protection Act. Key government ally Jamiat Ulema-e- Islam (Fazal) has recently been raising objections to the country’s Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018. Leaders of the party have been calling the Act ‘un-Islamic’ and demanding amendments to it that would effectively strip the transgender community of the rights promised by the Act. Activists believe that the parties, objecting to the Act four years after it was passed, are planning to make the issue part of their campaigns for

the forthcoming elections which are due in 2023.

Before the arrival of the Brit­ish colonists in South Asia, the transgender community was perceived as an integral part of society, many of its members occupying high places in Mu­ghal governments.

In 1897, however, the British Raj criminalised certain tribes and communities, including the hijra or transgender communi­ty. Though the criminalisation law was discarded after inde­pendence, the community has remained not just marginalised, but brutalised as well.

Better known in Pakistan as the Khwaja Sira community, the transgender community had fought long and hard for a law to recognise their rights and is prepared once again to fight the religious parties’ objections.

The National Assembly of Pa­kistan enacted The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, on May 8, 2018, pro­viding the transgender commu­nity with fundamental rights in health, education, government and security.

The definition of a transgen­der person according to the Act is: “Intersex (khusra) with a mixture of male and female genital features or congenital ambiguities, or (ii) Eunuch as­signed male at birth but under­goes genital excision or castra­tion; or (iii) a Transgender Man, Transgender Woman, Khawaja Sira, or any person whose gen­der identity and/or gender ex­pression differs from the social norms and cultural expectations based on the sex they were as­signed at the time of their birth.”

Since the Act was passed, transgender persons have had the right to register themselves as transgender female and transgender male, which is a significant advance for the com­munity’s identity.

PPP Parliamentarians secre­tary general Farhatullah Babar said the PPP will defend the Transgender Protection Act 2018 and, if needed, will also reach out to all those who have launched a campaign against it to remove misunderstandings about the Act circulated on the social media.

“Never before a law duly passed by the parliament has been so grossly misunderstood and so grossly misinterpret­ed; misconceptions have fu­elled more hatred in the soci­ety against transgender people and further endangered their lives as witnessed in attacks on them. So it is necessary to cor­rect the perspective and remove misconceptions,” he said.

Babar said a petition had been filed with the Federal Shari­at Court in this regard. He said confusion had been created by misunderstandings that the Act allowed change in gender from male to female or vice versa.

“This is absolutely wrong. No male can modify his gender as female nor can any female mod­ify her gender as male under the Act,” he maintained.

However, the JUI-F has moved Federal Shariat Court against the Transgender Persons Act 2018, claiming that the law was in contradiction with Islamic principles.

The Federal Shariat Court will take up the petition today (Oc­tober 3). In a statement, the JUI-F spokesperson said the party would continue its strug­gle against this act on every platform. Earlier, Senator Mush­taq Ahmed of Jamat-e-Islami had filed a petition in the Fed­eral Shariat Court against the Transgender Rights Bill 2018, claiming it contradicted the Is­lamic principles of heredity.

JI chief Sirajul Haq has warned the ruling parties if they failed to abolish Transgender Bill, fu­ture generations will not for­give them. The Council of Is­lamic Ideology (CII) says that many sections of the Transgen­der Act 2018 are not in confor­mity with Islamic teachings and could add to social problems in the country.

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)’s Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar has rejected the baseless propaganda regarding the Transgender Persons (Pro­tection of Rights) Bill.

He said it was not a new law as it was enacted in 2018. He said all the political parties, in­cluding PML-N, PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and others, ap­proved this law in 2018.

The law minister said trans­gender persons are also human beings and this legislation is meant to protect their rights, in­cluding inheritance, education, employment, health, and pur­chasing a property.

Nayyab Ali, founder of Trans­gender Rights Consultants, Pa­kistan said the Act does not address Islamic or un-Islamic issues.

“It just gives us the right to have our identity recognised and it gives us fundamental rights. It helps the police change their behaviour towards us,” said Nayyab Ali.

Ruling partners, the PML-N and the PPP, are trying to re­move the misunderstandings of the right-wing allies, especially the JUI-F.

“If there is any need for amendment, this can be done. The allies will resolve the mat­ter,” said a close aide of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. PM Sharif’s PML-N itself is also seen as a moderate right-wing party.

There are voices within the PML-N that oppose the Act in its present form and support amendments to make it accept­able to all. The PPP, among the coalition partners, seem the only party with a clear stance.