LAHORE - “A car’s window shut on the traffic signal with a scold, ‘go away’. I moved to the next and it too started disengaging with a deliberate display of disregard. Walking towards another vehicle for one more rebuke, multiple questions stroked my mind, like who am I? What am I? Why am I being treated inhumanely by the civilised herd of the second metropolitan of the country? Did I ask God to send me to these atrocious people as a third gender?” asks Nargis, a 50-year-old transgender person who belongs to  Sahiwal.

At the age of 10, she was shunned by her family and landed in the custody of her gurus. She rambled for 40 years from Islamabad to Multan and Multan to Lahore to get answers to these questions, but all she got is criticism, humiliation and abuse. “I never dreamt of accumulating a lot of wealth and earning fame; all I asked for was just a place where I could earn the respect, which others do. This is not what just I want; thousands of those who are like me in the country want the same thing,” she sighed.

According to the 2017 census stats, Pakistan has a transgender population of 10,648 -- Punjab 6,709, Sindh 2,527, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 913 and Balochistan 109. Tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a transgender population of 27 and Islamabad 133. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, a deliberate consideration of the record of transgender population is required.

Contrary to the census data, Charity Trans Action Pakistan, an organisation, which addresses needs and issues of the transgender community, says the total number of transgender people in Pakistan is “half a million”. Generally conflicting survey figures showed irresponsible attitude of the authority concerned towards the non-binary community.

The latter half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century is commonly dubbed as the age of human rights. The international criminal law has been in the vanguard of providing legal protections to vulnerable populations, both attempting to protect maginlised persons. With almost seventy years of the era of human rights, the world took steps to guard human rights. However, it failed in protect genderqueer community.

Nargis shared her nightmare of 50 years in this society. Stigmatisation, social exclusion and consequent eviction from the society added adversities to her already despondent life. “At the age of 9, I was expelled from school as soon as they found out the fact about me. At the age of 10, people reported me to the transgender community and started inveighing against my parents for their forceful custody. Consequentially, my family eschewed me. People never allow me to enter their homes or mingle with them. Even researchers, who come for interviews or research, don’t like to have a glass of water at my place. I was disgraced and called ‘hijra’ in an abusive manner. Usually, coward people are referred to as hijras, but we are a harmless creation of God,” she said.

“Society avoids us because of our professions i.e. whoring, begging, singing and dancing, but people don’t think for a while what pushed us to this. We are part of this culture but we were never owned. Sometimes, this thought strikes my mind, am I an animal? But no, people love, feed and provide shelter to their pets (dogs, cats, etc.). What then? Am I even lesser than animals?” asked Kajal, another transgender person who belongs to Vehari, but now lives with Nargis in Lahore.

People don’t like to visit transgender persons or communicate with them because of their bad reputation. They believe transgender persons are aggressive and can harm them. When researchers come to interview them, people taunt transgender persons about the visitors.

Studies conducted with the transgender population verified violent physical victimisation of 43% to 60% of the population. Such factors force transgender persons to run away from their homes and schools, violate laws and indulge in activities, which can harm not only their but others’ health too, most common of them being prostitution and I/V drug use. Moreover, suicidal ideation and attempts have been identified as additional threat associated with victimisation.

Voices raised by some transgender activists like Bobby Almas drew government’s attention to this neglected community. Consequentially, the government of Pakistan drafted certain laws for them that include issuance of health cards for treatment, right to choose their gender and to have that dentity on official documents, including national identity cards, passports and driver’s licences. They got the right to vote, hold public office, inheritance and job as tax collector.

Former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry announced allocation of two seats for them in the assembly, but from all these drafted laws only a few were implemented e.g. they were provided with identity cards in 2017 and in 2018 passports were issued to them with a mention of third gender. Rest of the laws are limited to paper only.

There is a dire need to uplift the most suffering community as almost half a million people are draining the economy of the country. The government should categorize them as “special persons” and specify monthly scholarships for them. They drop out of schools and colleges and are stopped from going to public toilets. Alesha, a transgender person who was shot in 2016, died as she could not get treatment on time.

Transgender persons must also be given share in low-cost housing scheme. Transgender people are forcefully converted orphans, homeless and jobless. They should be given jobs and pulled out of prostitution and begging.

Nargis dreams of getting higher or at least technical education and serving the country as a valuable member of the society.