Given the concerns, some steps have been taken by the government to protect members of the transgender community
he recent controversy surrounding the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, has stirred up both the traditional and social media. In the course of the heated debates over legal issues, progress on some practical steps taken by the government to provide protection to the transgender community was largely ignored.
The establishment of the first Transgender Protection Centre in Islamabad was one such step. It was inaugurated on October 14, 2021, by [then minister] Dr Shireen Mazari. The centre was established at a cost of Rs 35.8 million with an aim to provide legal aid, basic health facilities, psychological counselling and temporary shelter to the affected persons. The minister had promised similar centres in other cities.
According to the information provided by the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR), the centre has, since its inception, provided medical aid to 60, psychological counselling to 37 and legal aid to 25 transgender persons. Other activities at the centre have included awareness and sensitisation sessions on transgender issues, a seminar on mental health of transgender persons and prevention of communicable diseases besides free medical camps for transgender persons and visits to police stations and hospitals.
The centre provides shelter for old age transgender persons in collaboration with Pakistan Bait-ul Maal at Tarlai, Islamabad. A person in need can stay at the centre from 5pm to 8am. Basic meals are available free of cost. A MoHR representative said that they were also working on providing 24-hour shelters to stressed transgender persons. Intersex children can take shelter at the Child Protection Institute (CPI).
However, some transgender persons TNS talked to are not satisfied with the arrangements. Rani* says that most of the community members are not even aware of the existence of such a facility. She also says that the centre is under-equipped, under-resourced and under-staffed. “Above all, it is not a shelter home. That is a basic need,” she adds.
Muhammad Usama, programme manager at Dareecha, a non-government organisation, endorses Rani’s view. He says that transgender people facing issues of violence or social and familial acceptance need a long-tem shelter. “They are frequently left with no choice but to stay at the dera of a guru.” He says that the other basic need is skill-based capacity building to help transgender person sustain themselves economically without having to dance and beg.
A research study, The Hidden Crisis, by Dareecha and Dostana, two non-governmental organisations, found that a majority of transgender person in the city were not aware of the existence of a support mechanism. Some of those who had the information preferred not to reach out because of their past experience. Some of them feared getting caught by law enforcement agencies.
Another common observation regarding the centre was that its location was ‘unsuitable.’ The centre is currently located in Chak Shehzad, far from the main transgender clusters at Bari Imam, Mehr Abadi and Zia Masjid. So far, the project has not been replicated in any other part of the country.
During a recent hearing regarding the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) observed that the government was “not doing enough” for the protection of the rights of transgender persons and expressed dissatisfaction at a report furnished by the ministry listing measures taken to support the transgender community.
The court directed the ministry to establish a transgender protection centre for children and the elderly to ensure their welfare. The FSC also summoned representatives of the provincial welfare departments to direct the establishment of such centres. Responding to the FSC directions, an exclusive protection centre was established in Peshawar for old age and under-18 transgender persons in March this year. The centre comprised two rooms, with five beds in each room.
Another initiative taken by the Islamabad Police for protection of the transgender community was the Tahaffuz desk, established at its Gender Protection Unit last year. The desk, headed by a representative of the transgender community, aimed at facilitating the transgender people approach police to report violence.
Talking to TNS, Nayab Ali, in-charge of the Tahaffuz desk, says that the desk has played a major role in providing protection to the community. The purpose of establishing the Tahaffuz desk was to ensure access to police help without prejudice and harassment.
“The basic idea was to facilitate the transgender people in reporting cases of harassment and violence at an early stage. In the past only extreme cases – involving rape or murder – have been reported to the police,” she says. “Once the community members felt safe in contacting the police, crime rates went down and reporting of cases increased,” she says. Ali adds that during the last year, 86 cases were reported to the unit including two incidents of rape and one of kidnapping. The rest related to inter-community conflicts.
Ali says that one such unit has been functional in Rawalpindi since May 2020. “It was the initiative of then CPO Ahsan Younas. When he became the Islamabad IG, he replicated the model here. It is encouraging that his successors have continued the initiative. A month ago, the Punjab government announced the establishment of Tahaffuz desks in all districts of the Punjab,” she says. “Tahaffuz desks have already been established in 12 districts; the implementation is under process in the remaining districts.”
The process of establishing protection mechanisms for the transgender community has had its share of successes and failures. Community representatives say that the recent controversy surrounding the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights), Act, 2018, can trigger a new wave of violence against them. “There is a need to establish Tahaffuz desks and shelters in every district of the country so that the transgender community can feel safe,” says Nayab Ali.
The writer is a reporter for The News International