The answer to the easily ignored, often shunned question asking for the rights of Lahore's transgender community is coming from the least likely place: teenagers enrolled in A-levels. Headed by students from various branches of LGS, Project Pehchaan works under the umbrella of Next Generation Pakistan in collaboration with the Lahore Students Union. The students have taken a different approach to integration of Khawaja Siras into society, focusing on individual members rather than a few weakly implemented blanket protocols. Till now, it proves successful.
Pehchaan operates with a two-pronged approach: getting to interact with the Khawaja Siras and providing them opportunities for sustainable employment. The former enables the members to get personally affiliated with the Khawaja Siras; they converse at length about their experiences, their ambitions and desires, the prejudice they face in community and the lack of employment opportunities available to them. These sessions are held at Fountain House and sometimes, the Khawaja Siras are even hosted by the volunteers themselves.
The sustainable employment sector is in affiliation with the Lahore Students Union, headed by Gauhar Aftab and Muneezah Burney. Pehchaan distinguishes itself from former programs through their goal of providing the Khawaja Siras with a means to earn a sustainable living. The group has successfully established a stitching facility at Fountain House with a capacity of four trans-genders learning the skill from acclaimed trans-gender rights activists and a sewing master, Ashi. This provides the Khawaja Siras a respectable alternative from indulging in begging and prostitution, especially since Khawaja Sira volunteers learning are given monthly stipends so they slowly withdraw from the deplorable lives they currently live. This is also important to incentivize the Khawaja Siras to continue to come to the stitching facility, especially since they find trouble committing to such an activity given the money they can make via begging had they not chosen to learn stitching. The group hopes to provide the Khawaja Siras with monthly ration packets as an added incentive for them to keep coming to the facility.
It is imperative to know that Pehchaan is completely operating on donations, be it donations gathered from schools and school events or donations received from families on a monthly basis. Currently, the group is paying Ashi for her lessons, providing the monthly stipends and necessary sewing materials, including the unstitched cloth required for the Khawaja Siras to practice on. They aspire towards bringing in more Khawaja Siras into the program and refining their policy of providing incentives to volunteers for even better results.
However, Project Pehchaan is not only about providing employment and monetary benefits to the community. They aim towards an integration of these trans-genders into normal society and to normalize their existence in the community. The persecution they face from society is detrimental for their mental health, their self-respect and the image they associate themselves with when it comes to tasks as simple as going out to buy groceries. To break through the barrier and provide interactive, everyday activities for the volunteers, Project Pehchaan has previously held Iftaaris during Ramadan with help from the Khawaja Sira Society (KSS), breakfast gatherings to share Halwa Poori and holding meeting sessions on a weekly and bi-weekly basis.
Future aspirations include putting the finished clothing the trans-genders make on sale, to give them a source of earning and to use those funds to expand the project. The group is also planning a trip with Sightseeing Lahore in one of the double decker busses owned by Sightseeing Lahore to provide a much deserved break from daily life for the Khawaja Siras and to normalize their presence in society. Pehchaan also aims to start bringing Ashi into different schools, school events and seminars so she can talk about the project, the Khawaja Sira community and their lives and hardships so people get familiarized with the trans-gender community, see them as regular human beings just like us and start appreciating their presence in society, along with noticing the problems they encounter.
To expand the program, however, the group requires monetary support or material help in any way or form they can get. The fact that mere teenagers have established a program as detailed as this is astounding in and of itself but the harsh reality of monetary constraint is ever-present. To donate money, sewing supplies, clothing or provide support in any way or form visit www.facebook.com/nextgenerationpakistan and leave a message. The members will direct all messages to the necessary personnel.
The question of Khawaja Sira rights is one not easily answered, and very hard for a lot of people to accept. But as Muslims, Pakistanis and most importantly human beings, we hold the responsibility to fight against the persecution of disadvantaged minority groups exactly like the trans-gender community of Pakistan. While it may take years, maybe even years to fully come up with an answer, acknowledging the question is long overdue.
Lahore, April 26.