The not-so-curious case of trans oppression in Pakistan

By Saniyah Eman
Fri, 09, 20

Julie first went viral in 2016 after the horrifying videos of her assault at the hands of Jajja Butt, the leader of a Sialkoti criminal gang.....


On the tenth of August, 2020, Julie Khan left her living room to light a cigarette in the courtyard of her home. A few minutes later, her family heard her screaming and rushed towards her to find her getting beaten up by some uniformed policemen and a few members of the transgender community who had broken into the house’s yard. Julie was then arrested on charges of attempted robbery and violence against another Transgender citizen.

After her arrest, Julie was taken to Adiala Jail and imprisoned with male prisoners where she remained from the tenth of August to the eighteenth, while trans rights activists, citizens and her lawyer tried to get her bailed out. It took eight days for Julie to get out of jail despite the fact that the charges against her were, according to her lawyer, fabricated and had not been investigated thoroughly before the police’s forced entry into her home and her illegal detainment.

Hassaan Niazi, a human rights lawyer and activist who took up Julie’s case voluntarily, claims that the police has not bothered investigating the crimes Julie was arrested over her alleged involvement in; moreover, among the three names named by those who filed the FIR against her, Julie’s was the only one that had no charges of violence leveled against its owner and ironically, Julie was also the only one whose release took more than two days.

Who is Julie Khan?

Who is this Julie, whose name is suddenly everywhere on Pakistani social media, whose videos have been circulating on our phones during lockdown as her slim, grave, brown face delivers harsh monologues critiquing Pakistan’s double standards against the back drop of dark streets and the loneliness that is the fate of all transgenders in Pakistan?

Julie first went viral in 2016 after the horrifying videos of her assault at the hands of Jajja Butt, the leader of a Sialkoti criminal gang, were released on Pakistani social media and Jajja alongside the other perpetrators was arrested after Trans rights activists protested in Islamabad, calling for Justice for Julie Khan.

In a succeeding video in which Julie detailed the torture she had faced at the hands of Butt, she disclosed that she had also been gang-raped by a similar gang three months ago in Faisalabad, which had triggered her move to Sialkot in the first place.

After these life-altering events (which are unfortunately common occurrences in the lives of Pakistani transgenders), Julie became a Trans rights activist.

She had her fair share of the spotlight from then onwards for all the right reasons which, when reviewed, show just how absolutely derogatory and heart-rending the ordeal of merely existing in Pakistan as a transgender is.

In 2018, due to attend a meeting in Serena Hotel, Julie was told she could not enter the hotel until she clarified her gender. Then, when she obviously refused to comply to this request, Julie was told that the hotel did not allow kh*srey inside.

In 2018, Julie, at a press conference held during the election campaign in July, called for parents of Transgender children to reclaim their abandoned kids so that these children, too, could carve a future out for themselves without being groomed by the mafias operating inside Pakistan’s transgender community into becoming beggars or sex-workers.

Julie also appears in various other videos scattered across the internet. In one, she is lamenting the lack of public attention towards transgenders after a nation-wide lockdown was enforced due to COVID-19.

In another, she is seen excitedly preparing for a distribution of ration packs to transgender citizens and perhaps the most eye-opening videos are those in which Julie Khan shoots the monologues that earned her the title New Manto of Pakistan with The Centrum Media, a series of twelve videos featuring Julie and her heated speeches about Pakistani social issues.

It is difficult to give any one answer to the question that is Julie’s identity – she is a Pakistani, a trans woman, a rape survivor, a Trans Rights Activist and a fellow citizen who understands and is burning with the knowledge of what is wrong with this country we call our home.

Julie is also the face of the oppressed in our society; she is the face of those whom Faiz wrote his poetry about and whom Manto centered his afsaanas around, and this woman that we, the netizens, have now come to affectionately refer to as Humari Julie, has been in jail, locked up with men where most probably she relived the trauma she has been through at the hands of men like her cell-mates for eight long days simply because she decided to use the voice Allah has given her, to shed light upon the injustices being served to His creatures on His earth.

What led to Julie Khan’s arrest? – a patchwork of events

Julie has a long history of trans rights activism and her subsequent dives into hot waters with the authorities over it.

However, this time the hot waters Julie has been pushed into are murkier and scarier because the hands that pushed her in are ones from inside the transgender community Julie and other ambitious transgenders like her are trying to reform for the better.

This story begins not with the arrest and manhandling of Julie but with physical violence perpetrated against a friend of hers, named Rosy, a trans female. Rosy was beaten up by some members of the Pakistani Transgender community over yet unconfirmed reasons after which three transgenders including Julie raised their voices against Rosy’s assaulters and attempted to file a case for attempted murder against them on 12 July, 2020.

The case led to the arrest of the Guru, whose followers had apparently attacked Rosy on her orders; this Guru was supposedly released on bail two days later, after which her followers – or chaillas, in TG slang – cross-filed an attempted robbery case against Julie and her friends on the 16 of July, which is most probably what led to her arrest

Julie, on the night of her arrest, was not investigated prior to the arrest, nor was she kept in lockup custody – as the accused is usually kept – in the police station. Instead, she was shipped off to Adiala that very night, uninvestigated and untreated for the beating she had endured at the hands of the police.

Barrister Hassaan Niazi, her lawyer, has stated that he met Khalid Mehmood Awan (DSP Islamabad Police) and SP Sarfaraz, both of whom have “promised a free and fair inquiry” into Julie’s situation and an FIR against the complainants if the charges against her are found to be fabricated.

The first hearing for Julie was supposed to be held on 15 August (five days after her arrest) but court was adjourned after the complainants announced that their “arguments were not prepared”. Moreover, Julie was not granted bail and was left to rot in jail till the next tareekh – the next hearing to be held that would determine her fate if her complainants allowed it.

After the adjournment, Hassaan Niazi released a video expressing his fear for Julie’s life and hinted at the involvement of an entire “mafia” in Julie’s arrest and subsequent incarceration. Niazi, among other activists like Nadeem Kashish, then began calling for a civilian protest in front of the Islamabad Press Club to speed up the trial process for Julie.

The protest was held successfully on the 16 of August and the immediate effect of it was that Julie was granted bail 17 of August. Unfortunately, however, the honorable judge had left the courthouse by the time the bail papers were received by Julie’s legal team and so she remained in jail till the evening of 18 August, which was when the entire court procedure for her bail was finished and she was allowed to return home.

What you can do for Julie

What can we, as common citizens of Pakistan, do for Julie’s community and her cause?

The answer to this question is a difficult one to give, because the society we live in has so isolated this entire community that it is very difficult for an average person to gain access to them and help them in a way that is permanently beneficial.

What we can do, instead of attempting to do temporary things like financial aid for a month or two (Not saying you shouldn’t do that alongside, by the way!) for our local transgender communities, is

Act normal in their presence in public; do not step away from the place you see a trans citizen in, discourage others from isolating a trans person in social settings. Watch your words around a trans person and talk to them using pronouns they prefer.

Discuss trans rights and Pakistani transgenders on your social media. In the twenty-first century, the masses have finally gained a wonderful activism tool in the form of social media that they can use sitting at home to help the trans community and educate themselves and others about it.

Donate and volunteer at organizations like Wajood, Vision & Rozan that are working for the Pakistani transgender community. An important thing here is to do your research very well before donating to or joining an organization because unfortunately, in countries like Pakistan, there are many organizations and institutions that misuse donations and exploit volunteers in the name of minority communities and social causes.

Educate yourself about transgender rights, especially in Islam, because in a country like ours, where religion is misused to silence people into submission, it is up to us as the youth to turn to true, classical Islam in search for the cure Pakistan’s rotting system severely needs.

Trans rights have been detailed in all sects of Islam and the rights and various forms of transgenderism and hermaphroditism have also been discussed in great detail in books like Kitab Al-Khantha by Al-Shawkani (an 18th century Muslim scholar).

(Be careful to not attempt interpretations of these texts without scholarly supervision, however; as a student of religion, I have experienced firsthand how dangerous that can be for you academically and socially in a country where religious misinterpretations can have terrifying consequences for a young person.)

The most important thing you have to do for our Julie, however, is to maintain her visibility, to not let her cause be forgotten or her community left unsupported now that she is no longer in jail.

Now that this problem has been highlighted on a national level, it must stay that way so we can finally push our politicians and lawmakers into addressing the problems of the transgender community of Pakistan and taking solid legal measures to solve these problems for good.