Islamabad - Transgender community has little prospects for decent livelihood in our society , as around 0.5 million registered transgender persons live in Pakistan and most of them have been left no option but to do begging, sex work and dancing to make both ends meet.

“Unfortunately, our society does not accept transgender persons to do anything else except begging or dancing. This pathetic and inhuman attitude forces us to live in deprived and isolated conditions due to taboos associated with us in Pakistan’s conservative society ,” commented Almas Bobi, a renowned transgender activist and founder of She-male Foundation Pakistan.

“Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat, a religious law organisation based in Lahore, has recently given a fatwa (decree) declaring that transgender people have rights to marriage, inheritance and funeral.

The fatwa stated that a female born transgender person having “visible sign of being a female,” or a person having “visible sign of being a male” can marry with his opponent sex. However, it ruled that a transgender person carrying “visible sign of both genders” may not marry anyone.

The decree further states that any act aimed to humiliate, insult or tease the community members was “haram“ and that transgender person should neither be deprived of family inheritance, nor the right to be buried in Muslim graveyards as well.

“Such fatwas will not change the thinking of Pakistanis towards the community members to a greater extent. It will have a little or no impact on public behaviour towards us,” Bobi said adding it was the responsibility of the state of Pakistan to bring transgender community into mainstream.

A parliamentarian from ruling party PML-N, Shaza Fatima Khawaja called for an immediate plan of action to address the issues of deprived, marginalized and neglected transgender community. She has said, “Even if we give them voting rights, we can’t decide whether to classify them as men or women on their ID cards”.

Almas Bobi said, “Recently announced fatwa is not a new thing, and indeed it does not accommodate the actual issue of marriage rights of transgender community.”

“This fatwa is not for “khawaja sara” but for those “intersexes” (zananas) who are actually not part of transgender community,” she said adding but still transgender community welcomes the fatwa and hopes that it would be the first step towards betterment of whole community. 

She said transgender community receives insufficient protection from authorities in Pakistan due to their taboo status.

In the famous 2009 of Aslam Khaki vs State of Pakistan case, it was first time in the history of Pakistan when transgender community was granted rights to inheritance, and Supreme Court of Pakistan officially recognised them as third gender.

“Every day million of transgender people in all regions experience rejection, stigmatisation, harassment and physical violence because they do not conform with prevailing gender norms,” says a United Nations report.

Unfortunately, it’s very common practice in our society to treat transgender community like the people of some other planet, while multiple challenges, for example, family pressure, local community threat and harassment act lemmatise transgender persons to live with the same looking people especially under the supervision of a Guru, a caretaker of the transgender persons.

An unfortunate 45-year-old Firdous, a transgender from Islamabad, hardly managed to launch her own business. From begging to establishing a cable network business, she faced many ups and downs. Finally, due to the enormous pressure from local community, she quitted her profession and is back in streets for begging due to his taboo status.

“I faced a lot of discrimination because my appearance does not match to society’s gender norms,” she told The Nation.

Speaking about the downturn in her business, she said: “Most of my clients refused to pay their bills after I had provided them the cable network. I was abused and threatened, which forced me to shut down my business and return to begging.”

On the other hand, the transgender community is increasingly being targeted with physical attacks. Last month, a transgender activist Alisha, who was shot injured in Peshawar, was refused medical treatment in a hospital, which trigged protests across the country. Later, Alisha succumbed to her injuries.

Moreover, Trans Murder Monitoring Project with the collaboration of UN published a report that states from 2008 to 2013, there were 1,374 reported killings of transgender people in 60 countries all over the world.

It is the matter of great concern that 46 transgender have been brutally tortured and killed and more than 300 hundred cases of physical violence and abuse were reported alone in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province during the last two year, the report states.

For the first time in the history, the KP government has allocated Rs 200 million for the transgender community in order to build vocational and rehabilitation centres for them. The other provinces should initiate such projects for the betterment of marginalized community.

As far as health issues are concerned, 98,000 people are affected by HIV and Aids in Pakistan and out of them 4 per cent are transgender people or sex workers, according to World Health Organization.

–The writer is a freelance contributor.