Hijrah + Transgender Rights in Pakistan


A new frontier in civil liberties

A new frontier in civil liberties

Posted by Sana Saleem

Transgender rights represent a relatively new frontier in civil liberties activism. In Pakistan, eunuchs have historically been disregarded and marginalised by mainstream issue advocates. The discriminations against eunuchs reveal our petty-bourgeois mentality that is mostly reluctant to recognise gender deviance.

Over the years, the complete isolation of eunuchs from the very fabric of our society has denied them access to education, employment and health care – a direct violation of fundamental rights. Instead, they are forced to beg, dance, and enter prostitution as the only means of livelihood. Forms of discrimination impacting them include housing discrimination, discrimination in public accommodations, and violence, rape and forced prostitution. Discriminatory behaviour has also forced eunuchs to resort to living in isolated colonies, shunned by society.

To demystify the shrouded lives of eunuchs here, we must begin with an understanding of our society. Ours is a society with a blatant male privilege – the patriarchal orientation  reigns supreme as an institution that organises much of life, exhibiting a  natural preference for sons over daughters. While we battle against gender discrimination, transgendered children have little or no space in the social set-up.

In fact, when it comes to analysing the life of a eunuch, we find ourselves immensely confused owing to gender-role socialisation which is rampant in our society. It’s safe to assume that our understanding of genders is not only discriminatory, but we are also clearly confused about the spectrum of gender. It is this unfortunate condition that has led to the marginalisation of the eunuch community and forced them in to the world of sexual exploitation.

Despite years of discrimination, the eunuch community has survived the taunts, humiliation, and savagery, and continues to fight back. Islamist jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki joined their struggle as he filed the petition for the welfare of the unfortunate and vulnerable community abandoned by society. Dr Khaki’s activism led to the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the protection of eunuch rights.

Dr.Khaki researched the conditions in which eunuchs live and discovered them to be the most oppressed and deprived segment of society, subjected to humiliation and molestation.

Responding to a query, he told the court that there are about 80,000 eunuchs in Pakistan. Parents give their gender-confused children into the care of gurus (leaders of eunuchs) at a very tender age. They get no opportunity to study and are instead trained to beg, dance or become prostitutes.

The court order thus requires the social welfare authorities to register and research the particulars of the eunuchs, and the circumstances in which parents hand over their children to gurus. The court has further ordered an evaluation of the offence such parents commit as they willingly give their children away to eunuch leaders at the time of birth.

At this point, it is difficult to ascertain the future of the eunuch community in Pakistan. While we laud the stupendous effort of the Supreme Court to ensure every Pakistani citizen’s human rights, we must acknowledge that the issue is far more complex and will take a lot more than surveys and court rulings. No doubt, the survey is a step forward in recognising the existence of the mostly ignored  factions of our society. It is also bound to face critical issues, such as how to differentiate between eunuchs, cross-dressers and sexually ambiguous or androgynous people who don’t identify with any gender or sexual orientation.

The fact is, surveys cannot be the only route to justice because they cannot account for the psychological aspect of sexuality and transgender issues. Whether the Pakistani judicial system – and, more importantly, the public at large – is ready to come to terms with the findings of the survey and the complexity of transgender issues remains to be seen.

sanasaleem80x80 Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices, Pro-Pakistan her personal blog Mystified Justice. She tweets at twitter.com/sanasaleem.

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