In conversations with people from different countries, some of them find the fact that we have a third gender option on our identity cards shocking. A more progressive idea in their minds, their respect for Pakistan immediately goes up – all for a brief second or two, before I give them the harsh reality.
Yes, the Pakistani state does allow for one to choose the third gender as their sex when filling out ID card forms, but it does nothing to protect them against the constant attacks they face on a daily basis. Yes, there are traditions based on superstition and history that makes the average person steer clear of the “bud’dua” of transgender persons on the street, but it is only limited to handing over a few coins when we see them begging in the streets. Yes, a transgender person’s visit is supposed to bring good luck to a family on festive occasions, but this does not stop them from kicking them out if they are unfortunate enough to be born in that family. And yes, there are supposedly job quotas in certain state institutions, but that does not mean the community is not completely marginalised, forced to dance, beg and even resort to prostitution to make ends meet.
And even if we ignore all of the above problems, there is a darker trend for transgender persons to be attacked, maimed or killed, with very few repercussions. The news of a transgender person’s badly maimed body found in Peshawar – which bore obvious signs of torture, is not the first, nor will it be the last. The general contempt with which the society treats the community can only result in torture and murder. Children are taught to fear transgender persons on the streets, their behaviour is seen as something alien, and unless we attempt to change this, attacks against the community will continue to take place over and over again. According to TransAction, more than 50 transgender persons were killed in 2015 and 2016. Many more were attacked, beaten and tortured, but lived to tell the tale.
Discussions with foreign nationals has led to me believe that this is not only a national problem; in countries such as Moldova and Albania, there is still rampant homophobia and general distaste for the LGBT community, but at the very least, the homophobia does not translate into legal ramifications for anyone who chooses to declare their homosexuality.
But the perspective of other countries aside, Pakistan needs to do more to protect a large community of transgender persons (estimated to be around two million by TransAction) and an incalculable number of homosexuals in the country.
It has been a few years since a well-known psychologist from Karachi altogether denied the existence of homosexuality in Pakistan – but not much has changed since then. In 2014, a serial killer targeted his homosexual victims through a popular mobile app for meeting and hooking up with other homosexuals. The use of Grindr, belied the man’s own homosexual preferences, but the extent of the repressive culture and homosexuality being a taboo in the country gives us an indication of the gravity of the situation. This is not to justify his actions – far from it – but this gives an indication of how much damage the lack of discussion, debate on and acceptance of homosexuality has wrought.
In a country of over 200 million, 1 percent of the population is marginalised in ways unimaginable, and the state’s reaction is lukewarm. Some laws exist, but there is little in the way of protection for the transgender community. The public’s reaction is more or less reactionary, and organisations such as TransAction are not only few and far in between, but enjoy little to no support from the general populace.
While the maimed body of the transgender person has yet to be identified, in general Pakistan needs to come to terms with the LGBT community’s existence, and work towards accepting it in the fold of regular society. Unless this happens, and unless children are taught to accept differences at an early age, we will have more bodies to deal with.