The trans-gender community in Pakistan is
calling for an end to discrimination.
The outcry follows the death of a transgender activist, who was shot multiple times by unknown attackers.
Rights groups say the activist was discriminated against at the hospital, which ultimately resulted in her death.
Asia Calling’s Naeem Sahoutara reports from eastern city of Lahore.
Over recent months, Lahore’s famous Al-Hamra Theater has put a unique play on the stage.
Unlike famous artists, the play Teesri Dhun was performed by infamous members of the transgender community.
The play’s title refers to the transgender community, Teesri Dhun.
40-year-old transgender, Neeli Rana, played the lead role.
“This theater play was based on research around human rights. It highlighted the issues as to what problems transgender people face, and those problems were brought out in the play,” says Rana.
The first of its kind in the history of Pakistani theater, the play revolves around the lives of the stigmatized transgender community, who exist amid Pakistan’s conservative Muslim society.
Outcast, they are not welcomed in their families, at schools or in regular employment.
For 40-year-old Rana it’s been tough being a transgender in Pakistan.
“In 2006 I became an activist campaigning for my community’s rights because the transgender were not being issued birth certificates and national identity cards,” Rana says.
“Since they had no information how to get these identity documents I started guiding them. I’ve also been highlighting the problems through protests and through the media.”
Outside the theater, many transgenders end up begging for money on street corners.
Abandoned by their families they often live together in small groups in slums areas.
For decades they have been dancing at weddings to earn a livelihood. And with no education many end up in the sex industry.
“Before we used to dance at carnivals to earn a living but those have been stopped because of the terrorists,” Rana states.
“So now, when sources of income end, then what will the community do? Most have already started begging, if we indulge in the sex work, this is not by choice. Society forces us into it.”
Facing deep discrimination and sometimes fatal violence, around 45 transgender people have been killed over the last six months.
The latest was a 23-year-old transgender activist, Alisha, who was shot multiple times by an unknown man in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
On third day she succumbed to her injuries due to alleged discrimination at a government hospital. Medical staff, say activists, cost Alisha’s life because they spent too long deciding whether she should be treated in the male, or female ward.
The incident sparked protests by transgender and rights activists nationwide.
26-year-old transgender Jannat, who took part in the stage play, protested in the eastern city of Lahore.
She says Alisha’s death was not an isolated case.
“Once I went to a hospital, where the doctors asked me different questions like how much do I charge for having sex. They taunted me and asked oh, do you also need treatment? I was so disturbed that I went away without getting any medical care,” Jannat recalls.
In 2010, the community celebrated a historic victory when Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that the transgender enjoy equal rights as other citizens. The court ordered the government issue them national identity cards and also provide them jobs.
It was when the third column of ‘transgender’ was added to the national identity cards – but the promise of jobs and social welfare is yet to come.
With a dramatic surge in killings, community members like Zehrish say protection is vital.
“If a person is born as transgender this is not their fault. Had our rights been enforced then transgenders would have not been killed like this,” Zehrish explains.
In a surprise move, last week, some 50 leading Muslim clerics in Pakistan issued a decree declaring that marriage with a transgender person is lawful.
But it is subject to conditions, which ultimately may not end up benefiting the transgender community.
What is really needed, say those within the community, is the social mindset toward them to change.
“The most important thing is acceptance at the family level. Many parents object to the natural inner-self of the transgender, beating them, forcing them to act like men. Finally, they kick us out of the house,” Jannat says.
“Pakistani society must accept us as a reality like it’s been accepted in the European and other countries. We are also human beings just like anyone else.”
**This notification is intended to clarify a matter in this script regarding the aforementioned play, Teesri Dhun. To clarify, the play, which focused on the lives of six individuals in the transgender community, was staged at Al-Hamra Theater in Lahore, but was produced by OLOMOPOLO Media. **