A homely centre away from home

March 24, 2024

Tahaffuz Darsgah is expected to be a landmark project for the trans community

A homely centre away from home


rekking along the scenic Jallo Safari Park, one comes across a well-guarded building by the level crossing of the railway track. The walls of the building are topped by barbed wires. The huge gate is barricaded. A bunch of gun-toting guards receive you at the entrance.

Venture inside, and you encounter half a dozen, cheerful teenagers, who are apparently students here. This is Tahaffuz Darsgah, Lahore’s first shelter cum education centre for transgender children.

It’s a boarding and training facility for students of primary and secondary education. In its inaugural week of operations, the centre is enrolling young trans-persons aged 8-18 years.

Tahaffuz Darsgah is run by the United Kingdom Curriculum Accreditation Body, a British organisation. It’s built on an 8 kanals. Of these, four kanals are dedicated to a playground. The project is the result of collaboration with the Punjab Police which provided land for the centre.

“During my short service, I came across several cases where young transgender people faced abuse from their families, which forced them to move out,” says ASP Shehrbano Naqvi, who represents the Police Department.

“Last year, a family contacted us. They told us that their transgender child needed protection from a guru who was trying to take it away,” Naqvi tells TNS. “When the police investigated, it emerged that the child did not want to live with its family.

“The child identified herself as a girl, but her parents saw her as a boy. She did not want to live with her parents on account of their refusal to acknowledge her gender identity. Her parents did not want her to be taken away by a guru who they believed would exploit the situation.”

Naqvi recounts another instance in which the police received an application from a transgender individual seeking shelter for two transgender children from their parents who beat them.

Generally, the police would refer such cases to the Child Protection Welfare Bureau. But the latter remains overwhelmed. This prompted authorities to look for alternatives. When the UK-CAB reached out to officials to help provide higher education to transgender people in the Punjab, it was acknowledged that the targeted population (young transgender people) often lacked basic education. Subsequently, the department provided land on which the organisation built classrooms and other facilities in 19 days flat.

Section 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan mandates free and compulsory education for all children aged 5-16. Despite this constitutional provision, Pakistan ranks second in the world with a huge (22.8 million) population of out-of-school children. Further, Section 8 of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals in admission to educational institutions. The government has been working to enact laws for the welfare of the transgender community, but little progress has been made in the education sector.

The boarding can accommodate up to 30 people.
The boarding can accommodate up to 30 people.


 visit to the centre suggests that the promise of quality education will be fulfilled. The environment at the centre appears quite homely. Hamza Attiq, a representative of Tahaffuz Darsgah, says, “We enrolled six students last week. All of them are getting along well. They’ve started attending classes and have adjusted well to the environment.”

The centre is composed of three blocks — one is for classrooms (there are six classrooms in all); another for vocational training; and yet another for lodging which can accommodate up to 30 people.

Anam Shahzad, a science teacher at the centre, explains that while some students are literate, others lack basic literacy. She also talks of some students exhibiting aggressive behavior. However, she says, “that’s not unusual given the level of discrimination and abuse they have faced.”

She adds, “The positive aspect is that all of them have formed strong bonds with one another. Similarly, we [teachers] are also developing affinity with them. I hope they grow up to be important parts of the society.”

According to Attiq, while the hostel facility is designed for a maximum of 30 people, the centre could take in more students if needed.

He says that the centre is open to hiring transgender individuals in the teaching faculty. Besides, the vice principal will be a transgender person.

Zahid Bhatti, a trustee of UK-CAB, expresses confidence in Tahaffuz Darsgah’s stated mission to bring about a revolutionary change in the lives of transgender individuals. He believes that the school will put an end to the practice of sending transgender children to so-called gurus, relieve parents of the pressure to raise their children in hostile environments and ultimately integrate transgender individuals into the society by providing them with education and necessary skills to become productive citizens.

Talking to TNS, Bhatti says that the project will evolve in a phased manner. In the first phase, the school will enroll children for primary and secondary education, affiliating with the Lahore Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education and the Cambridge Board. (Currently, the centre is enrolling students via their families and the police who refer them after conducting interviews with them.)

In the second phase, vocational training in more than 20 trending skills will be provided to enable the graduates to lead financially independent lives. In the third phase, higher education opportunities will be offered in collaboration with top-ranking British universities.

Bhatti says the school is currently designing student uniform and recruiting and training teachers. He thanks former caretaker chief minister Mohsin Naqvi, IG Police Usman Anwar, SSP Ali Raza, ASP Shehrbano and Safe City MD Ahsan Younis for their cooperation. “I will be truly grateful when the society begins to accept transgender individuals as equal citizens, without ridicule or discrimination,” he concludes.

The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship

A homely centre away from home