Adorned with ‘kajal’ and ‘Ghungroos’ in unique style, bringing fake smile on other’s faces – makeup, lipstick, dressed in colourful outfits, shouting with different voices a eunuch’s life has emerged in society as a matter of ignorance as people do not like to eat, drink or even shake their hands with them. Gender variant people are also ridiculed by society, for being different; they are more vulnerable to violence and abuse. Many have gone through breast implants and hormone therapy in their desire to look feminine. The surgery is expensive, but without it their transformation is incomplete. An ‘operation’ is cause for huge celebrations in the community. It is performed out of doors, and feasts, song and dance are rituals that accompany the event, which is orchestrated by the head of the community known as the Guru. Thereafter, the Guru takes over the proper upbringing of the newest member.
A few days ago, I met with Dr Wajiha Javed, who works for an International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) and has a great ambition to do a lot in order to make lives “healthy and safe” for the marginalised people of Pakistan. Mother and child health in underserved areas of the country is a key component of her struggle. While discussing transgenderism, she told me that a recent research indicates that approximately one out of 50 children are identified with a transgender tendency or potential. Therefore, it can be considered that about 2 percent population of Pakistan has been affected by transgenderism, however, Pakistan’s transgender population is estimated at about 500,000. She further pointed to a recent discovery from a research – during the embryo to foetus process of a child’s birth where the sex of the baby will be determined, the mother’s sexual hormone in the womb will give the baby’s brain a gender imprint. Commonly, male anatomical babies will get a male gender identity and female anatomical babies will get a female gender identity. However, there are children where the body is a male, the mother’s hormone give a female identity to the brain, the same goes with the opposite sex. When the female brain wants to reach puberty, the pituitary gland sends a message to the organs and the organs will send signals to the wall of uterus to receive their first menstruation, but for a female brain with a male body, there is no reaction to it and that is where all the depression and anxiety comes from.
The transgender community still faces prejudice in our society. They are devoid from actively participating in political, social, economic and financial sectors, which leaves them with limited options to earn a livelihood. On account of this, they earn their living by performing in the streets, at ceremonies and many survive in a precarious social niche as wedding dancers and providers of blessings in exchange for cash. They are present on traffic signals, begging for money, often from motorists stuck at traffic lights and on the doorstep of a house where a child is born.
Many would associate the transgender community with work as sex workers due to their difficulties to secure a job in the work field. Most analysts recognise poverty as a crucial factor in driving transgender persons towards an occupation such as prostitution. Both fake and real eunuch prostitution has grown in “red light” areas of Pakistan over the years. Ignorance toward psychological healing of problems in many lower class families leads their children to take shelter in so-called safe havens. Besides this, transgender persons born in to the elite do not face this treatment because of their social and economic status in the society.
There is little awareness about the lifestyle, and general issues transgender persons face on a daily basis. Apart from living a customary life, no one cares to know how they survive and when they die. It is believed that a funeral ceremony is a sober moment for them which is mostly carried out during night.
The golden era for the third gender was during the time of the Mughal monarchs, from 1526 to 1857, when eunuchs and hermaphrodites oversaw the harem, often becoming key advisors. In olden days, they used to work as the servants of women apart from performing on weddings and occasions. They were kept as trusted life guards in female areas and some even became generals in Mughal armies.
The recognition of the third gender is not because of a social issue; it is a matter of human rights. When we see their status at the international level, it feels that countries have perceived the importance of taking required measures for this creation of God. In India, the Supreme Court has recognised transgender as the “third gender”, where the government has provided the transgender people category with quotas in jobs and education. In Indonesia, there is an “Islamic boarding school” for transgender people, named Pesantren Waria, which opens its doors for the sake of freedom of religion, regardless of sexual orientation.
The transgender community can equally be entitled to rights guaranteed in the constitution to all citizens, including the right of inheritance after the death of parents, job opportunities, free education and health care. They are the creatures of God.