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February 7, 2016

‘Once without identity, now charting history’


February 7, 2016

Hijra rights activists from Pakistan and India discuss why their community has not been able to secure society’s respect despite gaining increased socio-political recognition 


While the country was busy hailing its first peaceful democratic transition following the 2013 general elections as historic, what was more significant and rather went unnoticed
was Pakistan's noted transgender (hijra) - as they prefer to associate with the term - rights activist Bindiya Rana becoming the first member of the community to contest elections in Pakistan.

Not only that, the community also used its right to vote, granted after an arduous struggle, for the first time in the country's history.

However, given the achievement, how successful has the community been in securing the society’s ‘respect’ or how much more intense their fight needs to grow, were a few points discussed in a session titled “Transgender Rights: Are There Any?” on the second day of the Karachi Literature Festival, 2016 on Saturday.

As the moderator initially for the talk was a no-show, the session started off with the firebrand hijra rights activists from India, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, cheerfully inviting panellists, Reema Abbasi, Bindiya Rana, Kim (Kami) and herself on stage. The session was then moderated by National Commission on the Status of Women chairperson Khawar Mumtaz.

Referring to the apex court’s judgement acknowledging the existence of the gender and giving the orders for them to be issued identity cards and provided with medical facilities, Bindiya, the focal person for Pakistan’s hijra community and Gender Interactive Alliance Pakistan president, said the Supreme Court’s ruling was light years away from the process of implementation.

“There are at least 17,000 hijras in Pakistan. Employing 17 of us and claiming yourself a champion of our rights is nothing more than a joke.”

Questioning those judging the community on choosing to sell their bodies to earn a livelihood, the activist snapped back at the audience saying, "It is not a fellow hijra who agrees to sleep with us!"

She added that the community would not have had to indulge in the trade were they provided equal employment opportunities.

However, Laxmi, while lauding the Pakistani hijra community for having initiated their struggle way before it started off across the border, expressed disappointment over the use of the word 'transgender' by the country's literati.

Endorsing Bindiya’s comment over hijras being sex-workers, Laxmi confidently remarked, “We want opportunities. You can keep your reservations with what we choose to do in your pockets!”

Citing a soon-to-be-presented bill on the community’s rights in the Indian parliament, Laxmi outright rejected the idea of accepting it on the premise that it was formed without taking the hijra community onboard.

Poking fun at the maddening race behind trying to rehabilitate the less-equal gender/communities, Laxmi retorted, “Ahhh, rehabilitation! Our bureaucrats just love it!”

Sending the audience into peals of laughter, the fiery activist further commented,
“You can’t hand a sewing machine to a sex-worker and believe that they have been rehabilitated.”

She called for mapping the community in order for them to be provided their rights, rather than devising half-cooked policies based on rough statistics.

Journalist Reema Abbasi spoke on the need to form a prison manual in order to keep the hijras safe from sexual assaults and molestation at the hands of law enforcers, incidents that are rampant in both India and Pakistan.

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