Thursday May 26, 2022

A murder in Peshawar

May 29, 2016

How much attention should we pay to the murder of a transgender person, particularly when the vile deed also highlights the general attitudes in a society that is so deprived of moral and cultural values?

Thankfully, sections of the English-language print media have covered the murder of Alesha in Peshawar and its aftermath in some detail. It is a major story from a journalistic standpoint because it is believed to be the first time that there was a proper funeral of a transgender person attended by members of civil society. The most prominent presence there was of Mian Iftikhar Hussain, leader of the Awami National Party (ANP).

Alesha, 25, was shot six times last Sunday night and she succumbed to her injuries at Lady Reading Hospital on Wednesday morning. She was a member of the TransAction Alliance. Even in her death, she had to suffer humiliation because the doctors initially refused to admit her to the women’s ward. Her right to life was not immediately accepted.

The administration of Peshawar’s leading hospital was accused by activists of not taking the critically injured to the ICU though she had been shot six times. There was a protest by members of Alisha’s community, joined by activists, and her corpse was put in front of the Faqirabad police station for some time, with demands for the arrest of the persons who had attacked her.

One does not know if the government of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as higher authorities across the country would have time to look at this incident and try to figure out what it means in the context of the rights of the marginalised communities in our society. Concerns that emerge from this murder have larger implications.

We can imagine the plight of transgender persons, known as ‘hijras’, in our society. A number of studies have been done on this issue and some poignant documentaries have been produced. At long last, transgenders in Pakistan can legally acquire CNICs, and so get their right to identity. Their predicaments have been discussed in civil society gatherings.

There was that inspiring presence of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, India’s transgender social activist, at the last Karachi Literature Festival held in February. She figured in two well-attended sessions – ‘The dilemmas of the transgender’ and ‘Transgender rights: are there any?’.

But nothing has changed on the ground, as Alesha’s story tellingly highlights. A social activist who led the protest after Alesha’s death is reported to have said that since last year, more than 46 members of the transgender community have been murdered. They were either beaten, stabbed or shot. It is a terrifying claim that needs to be properly probed. What is obvious is that our transgenders are commonly abused, humiliated and blackmailed.

There is another death I should be speaking about. A member of the Ahmadiyya community was shot dead in Karachi on the same day that Alesha died in Peshawar. His death was described as a targeted attack. A spokesperson for the community said that Dawood Ahmad had become the 30th Ahmadi to be killed in the city because of religious hatred.

In any case, what we have to come to terms with are primitive values that have persisted in our society. These values are rooted in religious extremism and intolerance. The entire social fabric seems to be in tatters. And the pity is that issues that relate to the rights of the oppressed communities, including religious minorities, are constantly ignored because the nation’s attention is forever distracted by political squabbles or national security complications.

So, when a columnist picks up an unnatural death for comment this week, it has to be Mullah Mansour, the chief of the Afghan Taliban who was killed by an American drone well within Pakistan’s territory. But he also had a Pakistani identity and had been travelling to the UAE and to Iran on a Pakistani passport. It is easy for a terrorist to hide and to live like a normal person in a Pakistani city.

I am not at all trying to underplay the global significance of Mullah Mansour’s death and the confused statements our high functionaries made as a result. The focus largely has been on how the US has violated our sovereignty, in spite of being our ally in this war against terrorism. So, what are we going to do about it?

Incidentally, there is a timely reminder of our resolve to defend our sovereignty and to gain the capacity to do so in the anniversary of our nuclear explosions of May 28, 1998. Yesterday, Saturday, was the anniversary of this fateful leap into a nuclear wilderness. They call it Youm-e-Takbeer. We have to be reassured that we are an overt nuclear power, one among only seven in this wicked world. But let us not go into how strong or vulnerable we are in dealing with our national security challenges.

I wonder if the two deaths, of Alesha and of Mansour, have some relevance to a common theme. Perhaps the battle against terrorism and extremism would also impinge on the struggle to make our society more civilised and democratic, one that would allow Alesha to live in dignity as a human being. A tolerant and peaceful society would make that possible.

These thoughts lead to a very valid question: what did happen to the National Action Plan? After all, it proposed a comprehensive strategy to eliminate terrorism, extremism and intolerance from Pakistani society. We were told that “protection of minorities will be ensured”. There was this resolve that “militant outfits and armed groups will not be allowed to operate”. Ending sectarianism was a stated purpose.

There certainly has been an improvement in the law and order situation and major victories have been won against terrorists in places like North Waziristan. But the spirit of the National Action Plan has not been dominant in our national policies. This revelation that Mullah Mansour had a Pakistani passport and was also living in Pakistan raises many disturbing questions.

I am unable to take up the observations made by the chief of the Council of Islamic Ideology in Islamabad on Thursday; he has prescribed light beatings for errant wives by their husbands. But here is something more that certifies that we still have to contend with elements that proudly defy fundamental human values and the dictates of a modern democracy.

Do our rulers really understand what they need to defend when they, in the face of the Panama Papers and the like, struggle to protect the present dispensation?

The writer is a senior journalist.