ISLAMABAD – Eunuchs in Rawalpindi are resorting to begging, and prostitution, after being hard pressed by spiralling inflation as the people are no longer interested in hiring their services as singers and dancers to add colour to their happy occasions like weddings, Haqiqas and circumcision ritual of a newly born.

In day time they are busy begging while in the night they can be seen standing beside an illuminated pole along a busy thoroughfare to attract customers equipped with their entire armoury - blushing make-up, shining hair and perfumed body. Hence the city eunuchs have apparently fallen on bad times. One can find a number of them asking for alms from motorists at busy traffic intersections-going from car to car, clapping in their inimitable style and trying to win over a little money.

Eunuchs have of course always performed for money. But they had not so far been forced to beg. They would appear at weddings and births and sing, even dance, and invoke God’s blessings on the lucky couple or the new born. How they manage to get wind of every birth and marriage in a locality has always been a mystery. With faces as colourful as their attire, eunuchs seem as if they are out painting the town red!

“Maintaining our traditional get-up - make up, jewellery and clothes - is very expensive, and then there are other necessities of life that only money can get for you, that is why we now have to resort to beggary; this has become a sole source of earning,” revealed admittedly Reema, a transvestite in Dhok Khabba.

When asked whether he/she had ever engaged in prostitution, embarrassment and shame flashed across Reshman, a young eunuch, replying “either people have lost their taste for music or we have lost the mellowness of our voice. People already treat us like beggars so what’s the harm in doing it.”

“Our customers are only interested in sex. We have to satisfy our customers in anyway,” Reshman said.

Eunuchs are spread all over the country. As far as their percentage in the total population is concerned, it is yet to be ascertained. There is no provision for this gender in the census form, since they neither belong to the male nor the female one. Also called as ‘hijra’, ‘khusra’, ‘chakka’ or what is recognised as the ‘third sex community’, eunuchs are a reality that is largely ignored and often shunned by the society.

“We are men in women’s cloths. Our body is male but soul is female. Our natural characteristics are more of men but we enjoy behaving like a woman; therefore, we wear clothes like them, put on makeup and wear jewellery in the same style as women do because women are more attractive for people, so we prefer to look like them and attract the attention of the people on the streets. This helps us in our profession, because the public does not notice those hijras in our community who move around with a male get-up,” confides Meera. While discussing the relations outside the community, Meera revealed that they also enjoy the relationship of marriage with men outside the hijra community.

“These men though are already married and have their own kids, enjoy spending time with us. We get ready for them and cook good meal for them and eat together. Their hidden interest in this relationship is homosexuality and our interest is money that they give to us on each visit. But there are times when we get seriously involved with them and start loving them. We assume that they will love us, too, but they leave us when they need us no longer. This upsets us a lot but eventually we come to terms with the fact that this relationship was not meant to be”, Meera said.

The rise of homosexuality in society is assuming alarming proportions, particularly when seen from the perspective of a proportionate rise in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases.

Officially, there are close to 2,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. However, given the nature of the subject, a few infected people disclose their status. Media reports estimate the true number of HIV-positive people to be closer to 80,000. Moreover, access to health services is poor, despite high-risk behaviour with regard to prostitution.

Many of the hijras’ customers are ‘normal’ men who also form heterosexual relations in society. Medical check-ups are a rarity in this culture of secrecy, increasing the health risks involved. Perhaps, they are not even aware of the risks involved in their ‘business’.

“The negative projection of the hijra community in the media makes us rebellious. We really get hurt when people make fun of us and laugh at us because God made us the way we are. We also wish to participate in elections, be members of parliament, be a part of other decision-making authorities. We also desire to express ourselves on various platforms; we would love to be educated and develop ourselves and live the way other communities live in society,” said Shabana, a hijra, angrily.