I believe gender is fundamentally a societal construct. All the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ paraphernalia is indirectly taught and learned; and is an artifact of our culture. To look womanly or manly, one has to adopt some customarily derived norms of behaviour, dressing and speech even.
Living in the ‘Land of the Pure’, I cannot tell what the current population of transgender people here in Pakistan is. The reason is not my ignorance, but the mere fact that 2017 is the first blessed year when the transgender community will be included in census. Before this, we only knew how to mock the community without being able to understand their non-binary gender identity. This in no way, means that the community that demands our highest respects is not mocked now. As they say, bad habits die hard; we as a nation are ritualistic and averse to being receptive towards any positive change. Blindly following what has been fed to us by our society, we give absolutely no or very little thought to things that require our serious consideration. All I know is, according to recent research conducted on ‘transgenderism’, roughly one out of 50 children are identified with a transgender propensity.
I had written this way earlier, but making my transgender friends speak about it was as hard as chewing a bolt. “When our parents could not understand our dilemma, how can this world, which only knows how to make fun of our appearance, understand?” said Pomi, 35, with tears of some old memories twinkling in her eyes. “Do not ask me anything; I was thrown out of my house when I was 13; rather you tell me who am I? Why am I a transgender? Is it us who chose our genders before coming in this world?” Sana, 24, replied in response to a question I once asked her. However, after almost a year of friendship, Pomi and Sana express not only their views but their suffering as well, openly in front of me. “I felt funny, when my father’s name was asked for my identity card process. What has he done apart from bringing me in this world and opening up doors of misery while closing the doors of his house on me?” Sana shrieked. “I wanted to study like my siblings, but the fear of being laughed at was greater than having a good life later. From a child to an elderly man out there, wants to make fun of us – and you are talking about job opportunities for us. I, no we all, will die in poverty or will be killed by the police. I am already telling you!” Sana’s dejected eyes stopped me from asking any further questions.
Thankfully, on January 9, the Lahore High Court Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah instructed the Federal Government, National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and the Interior Ministry to include the transgender community in the sixth upcoming census while hearing a petition filed by lawyer Waqar Ali in November 2016. Earlier in 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had declared equal rights for the community, including free education and their right to inherit property and assets. In 2011, the bigender people had been granted the right to vote.
I feel awful to comprehend what we considered them before 2011. No formal collection of data led to no specific government policies, at either provincial or federal level, addressing their genuine and grave issues. We, as state and society, force them to fall into high-risk groups, including drug abuse, begging and sex work. Talking to another, I was told that all the policies for the protection of rights of transgender people are mere paperwork and lip service with no implementation on ground. Transgender people are not only living-beings but citizens of the state with the same constitutional rights; so why did it take a court order to include them in the census? Had we been a considerate society, it would have been an obvious practice.
The Qur’an is clear on genomic specifications by pointing out that Allah is the “One who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases" (Surah Aale-Imran, Ayah 6). Isn’t it ironic that in recent times, the torchbearers of the finest religion in the world never showed signs of respect and support to the community? Instead, a much decent title ‘khawaja sara’ (a respectable name given to them during the Mughal era) has been replaced by rather a pejorative one which is ‘khusra’ to disparage the personality of the already pained ones. Saudi Arabia who champions the cause of Islam, shies away in holding inquiry into the sad incident involving alleged murder of two Pakistani transgender persons, earlier in March this year. In the 'Land of Pure', why did no religious scholar or political stalwart came forward to lend a voice of support? Why is the government as quiet as dead about the matter? This proves that their lives mean nothing and their deaths mean nothing at all. The Travel Agents Association of Pakistan was apparently told last year not to grant visas to transgender people planning the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage. When the Quran clearly states it’s not a human being who chooses his gender, then who gave these states the rights to discriminate between individuals? As if the harsh treatment of nature was not enough, we leave no stone unturned to add to their suffering through our inhumane behaviour.
The easiest solution is to surge their acceptance in the society, so instead of being shunned away by us, they get proper education without being mocked, a decent job without being judged – on something they have not chosen for themselves. The ministry of education should have come up with proposals to integrate them in the education system by drafting policies such as allocating quota for them in schools, colleges and universities. This way they would not have been shunned by their parents. In this way, the society will move towards accepting them as equally talented citizens. As a result, they will have skill-sets to avail employment opportunities, which will not only lessen their misery but will add into us having a productive society. We have taken so many years to include them in census; I hope we won’t take that many for their integration in the society.