Alisha’s daytime funeral maybe a first big step towards recognising the transgender community, but there’s still a long way to go
Twenty five year old Alisha, who was shot several times by Fazal Gujjar and his two accomplices on May 22 in Shahi Bagh, Peshawar, is the 46th transgender victim of violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the last 18 months. She is the first transvestite whose funeral was held during the day at the house of Qamar Naseem, a human rights activist working for the transgender community in KP and Fata. Government officials, politicians and rights activists attended the funeral.
The incident was widely covered by the national and international media. The news that the Lady Reading Hospital’s staff did not at the first instance allow Alisha space in the male or the female ward sparked an outcry.
Farzana, head of the TransAction Alliance KP and Fata, alleges that Alisha was treated outside a lavatory of the surgical ward. "Instead of treating her, the hospital staff joked about transgender people and kept asking other trans women for their contact numbers".
The provincial health department has ordered a high-level inquiry against the allegations of neglect by the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) staff. The LRH director Col(R) Dr Hamid Saeedul Haq told the media that an inquiry committee headed by a professor and consisting of senior doctors, director nursing and the hospital’s media manager will investigate the incident. "We would take action if institution’s employees were found guilty and would recommend strict action if any civil servant was involved," he says.
Farzana does not approve of the inquiry committee and demands the presence of at least one member of the transgender community on the committee. "Doctors are influential people. They would influence the findings of the inquiry committee and would do anything to save their colleagues guilty of negligence in Alisha’s case," she argues.
A transgender activist, Naina, alleges that many influential persons including a provincial assembly member, a police official, two ex-MPAs and some non-political persons are trying to force Farzana and other members of the TransAction Alliance to reconcile with the killer. At present Farzana and her organisation are resisting pressure to make a compromise, however, increased pressure on transgender activists might force them to agree to a patch up.
The interest shown by the provincial government in addressing some of the concerns of the transgender community after the death of Alisha has brought some hope to the helpless community. Still, attacks on their community haven’t stopped; the house of a TransAction Alliance coordinator for Swabi district, Sidra, was attacked on May 31. "Three armed men forcibly entered her house and wanted to rape her and her friend Chahat. Two attackers though managed to run away after facing resistance. The third one, Shah Zaman, was locked in a room and was taken away by police to the local police station only to be released without charges," informs Qamar Naseem.
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But the TransAction Alliance, Swabi chapter president, Gul, alleges that the attackers were policemen who had gone to Sidra’s house to extort money. "They wanted to extort money from Sidra and also rape her. They were able to snatch the official firearm from Shah Zaman and lock him inside a room after a fight," Gul claims.
The Swabi police deny the allegation. They claim the transvestites were going to perform at an event without informing the local police station and the cops had gone to their house to inquire about their whereabouts.
The transgender community in KP is facing a number of difficulties at the hands of people who can’t tolerate their existence. "Common people and even policemen harass us for what we are. People feel it’s their duty to invade the privacy of our houses. Extortion, rape, beating and shaving of heads and eyebrows are the common ways of harassment we face in our daily lives," says Paro, a transgender activist.
Paro alleges that her colleagues were recently ripped off 2.5 million rupees by the police after a birthday party in Haripur. "In birthday parties in our community, each participant pays 25,000 rupees to the birthday girl. We had taken permission from the police and they came to enjoy our party, but, in the end, the cops started breaking windows and beating us before snatching all our money," she claims.
Senior Superintendent of Police (Operations) Abbas Majeed Marwat tells TNS that the Peshawar police are trying to bring all, including the police personnel, to justice for causing harm to the transgender persons. "Transgender community will get all the protection it requires. Anyone, including policemen involved in harassing the community members and demanding extortion money from them will be traced and dealt with according to the law," he says.
Inspector General of Police Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Nasir Khan Durrani has asked the provincial government for introducing a special legislation for protection of the transgender community. He wants the community to be treated as a minority having full rights.
TransAction Alliance, with support from civil society activist Qamar Naseem’s non-governmental organisation, Blue Veins, has been working to protect the rights of the transgender community by mobilising and educating them by arranging discussions, creating awareness about their legal rights, HIV/AIDS and capacity building of the community members by interacting with people from different walks of life. It has made strides in making people aware of the needs of the transgender community.