Pakistan needs consistent efforts to reduce violence against its transgender community
eeli, a transgender victim of violence in Lahore, says she has been working for the promotion of transgender rights —protection, inclusivity, identity, equality and respect — for many years. She says her struggle began some 20 years ago when she suffered brutal violence at a wedding party.
“They were drunk. They harassed our dancing group and beat us. I was tied to a pole and tortured for not dancing to their favourite tunes,” Neeli tells The News on Sunday. “I resolved then to fight for the rights of the community and raise a voice for our protection and dignity,” she says. She urges people to be kind to the vulnerable community. She says they frequently face discrimination and violent behaviour from various sections of the society.
June 26 is marked as the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. It is an opportunity to call upon international institutions, including United Nations member states, rights groups and media to raise their voice against all type of violence, especially to make efforts if there is a failure to protect individuals against torture. The day is observed to remind people that torture is not only unacceptable – it is also a crime against the dignity of a human being.
The transgender community is a marginalised section of the society in Pakistan. They have been facing discrimination for decades. Their exclusion and reluctant acceptance in the society is one of the primary reasons of violence against them. They are often stigmatised because of their gender.
For the past few years, reported cases of violence and torture against transgender community have been rising in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This includes harassment and torture by law enforcement agencies, especially the police. According to reports by various rights groups, nearly 100 people have been killed since 2015. Some of them were tortured to death. Many more were beaten, harassed, tortured, shot at or molested.
Five transgender persons received critical injuries early this year after a man opened fire on them in Mansehra in the name of honour. Many transgender persons have been attacked in the last two years in Karachi, urban Punjab and various towns in the KP. Last year, in Peshawar, a trader killed a transgender friend after she pressed for repayment of a loan. Two armed men attacked Nayab, a transgender rights activist, at her Islamabad home.
Recently, in Karachi. Paras, a transgender person, dancer by profession, has moved court against violence by an influential person of the area. “Is justice only for the rich and influential in Pakistan? Will somebody listen to our marginalised and oppressed community in this society and give us justice,” she says in a video message.
“Begging on streets and dancing are the main reasons for harassment and torture by the police,” Neeli says. She says, “the government should tell us what should we do when we are not imparted education, given jobs and respect? We need acceptance, recognition, respect and rights as equal human being.”
Over the years, Pakistan has recognised several rights of this community. A law was passed in 2018 to safeguard their rights. Pakistan is among 12 countries that issue CNIC and recognise the gender as “other”. Efforts are being made to provide them jobs against quotas, educate them and count them in the census.
Most of the transgender persons in Pakistan are sex workers, dancers, beggars, cooks and beauticians. Increasingly, they are also seen in colleges and universities and working as lawyers, journalists etc.
“The transgender community is socially excluded. They require generous support of the state and the society. They are deprived of their rights and are considered weak. That is why they become targets of violence and torture,” says Nadeem Mahbub, a senior government officer in the administration group. Mahbub, currently part of the National School of Public Policy faculty, took the initiative some years ago to open a transgender awareness and education centre in Sargodha where he was then serving as an administrator.
“Awareness raising and sensitisation of the police is required to reduce violence against transgender persons,” he says. Without this, he says, laws meant to protect the vulnerable people remain unenforced.
“For the social inclusion of this transgender community and to end violence against them we need to raise our voices continuously. If we are raising concerns and voices for this weak and discriminated community, it is because of awareness and sensitisation we have benefitted from. If it continues, it will have a trickle down effect,” Mahbub adds.
On June 26, 1987, the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) came into force. In 1997, the General Assembly decided to mark the historic date and designated June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It was first observed formally in 1998. On this day the UN appealed to all governments and members of civil society to take action to defeat torture and torturers everywhere. The UNCAT has been ratified by 162 countries so far.
“Torturers must never be allowed to get away with their crimes. Systems that enable torture should be dismantled or transformed,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres says in his message on this day. Torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being.
The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at vaqargillanigmail.com. He tweets waqargillani