In the subcontinent, the ‘third gender’ struggles to exist
Anubhav Chakerabarty, Akhilesh Nagari, Basit, Jahanzeb Tahir & Sara Tanveer
The transgender community was recognized as a ‘third gender’ in India in 2014. In contemporary India, although events like queer parades and informal meeting spaces offer a much-needed gathering space and platform to talk about LGBTQ issues, several issues continue to plague the transgender community.
Anita, a trans woman, who came to Delhi from Darbhanga 15 years ago, still finds it difficult to make her ends meet. Financial security is one of the several problems that the transgender community faces.
With no means of livelihood, several transgenders from lower economic strata have no option other than sex work. “No one chooses sex work. However, I am not privileged like others (from the community) who come from an upper middle-class background to maintain my trans identity without having to dwell in sex work,” Anita says.
The tag of being “different,” as the transgender community is generally perceived, makes it difficult for them to find any sort of accommodation. Akshata, who migrated from Lucknow to Delhi, is one of many who has to keep her identity a secret, just to make sure that she has a roof over her head. She is a Delhi university student, living in a paying guest accommodation in Noida. However, she hasn’t revealed her trans identity to any of her housemates. She deems it an unnecessary hassle, and a reason that might get her kicked out of the place. She adds, “no-one can ever get to know that I am a trans woman, unless I choose to reveal it.”
Most of the transgender people during their period of SRT (Sexual Reassignment) surgery, generally are supported by NGOs, which provide them with jobs and a basic sustenance money. However, after the surgery is completed, they are expected to integrate with the society outside. However, it becomes increasingly more difficult after the surgery.
Washrooms are a big concern among the community. Unlike the United States of America, where there are separate washrooms for the transgenders, the Indian government or the Delhi government hasn’t made any separate washrooms or any provisions for the transgender community. Reena, a 22-year-old trans man, feels he is not comfortable sharing a standard binary washroom based on gender. However, Reena doesn’t hope for a change in the scenario anytime soon.
In a landmark move by a state institution, Delhi University in 2016 welcomed the third gender students to take admissions within the university. However, according to the data released by most of the colleges in the university, no transgender student is enrolled in a regular course. Around 56 students have enrolled themselves as ‘Third Gender’ in the School of learning or popularly known as ‘SOL’, where classes are held only once a week and attendance isn’t much of an issue.
“Transgender people in this society are handicapped because of a social taboo attached to them”, says Dr S.P.K Jena, professor of applied psychology, Delhi University. “We as a society needs to understand the stigma attached to them and provide them with vocational training in order to integrate them into society.”
Fiza, who is currently undergoing an SRT surgery has faced a lot of physiological issues regarding this transition. She had a boyfriend back in Kanpur, where she originally belonged from and stayed till most of her school life. However, they parted ways after she came back to Delhi. Since then, she is anxious about her future. She feels that no-one is going to accept her as a ‘Trans-woman’ in the near future and give her the same amount of love and nurturing which she got from her previous boyfriend. She feels even if the society has started accepting ‘transgender’ community as an identity, there is very less scope for romantic relationships outside the trans community.
The Way Forward
“One needs to adopt a systematic approach in order to bring change within the mindset of the people regarding transgenders”, says Reena Rai, founder of Suhani Dream Catchers, an NGO working for the upliftment of transgenders. She continues “Firstly, we need sensitize the school kids regarding the issue of transgenders. Secondly, we need to run employment schemes through which we could provide them with an opportunity to live a dignified life. For this, our NGO was successful in forging collaboration with Lalit Hotel, where we provide transgender people with job opportunities.”
Other non-governmental organizations, such as the one run by Ram Kali Basera, in Noida, have been trying to provide relief and shelter opportunities for many individuals who are in the process of transforming their gender or have already transformed their gender. They have several tie-ups with Rahi foundation and other governmental agencies. The surge of these NGO’s, which are mostly run by people who have faced gender oppression is providing a new ray of hope to the transgenders.
The lives and times of Karachi’s transgender community
Bindiya Rana always felt different. She knew she wasn’t like the other boys her age. In fact, what exacerbated her aloofness was the way she was treated by those around her.
One thing that always struck Rana was how she was sent to a public school, while all her siblings went to private institutions. At the time, her young mind couldn’t comprehend the discrimination. As she looks back today, she realises it was on account of her being the “third gender”.
Discrimination is the one word that has become thematic in the lives of members of Pakistan’s transgender community. According to the 2017 census, of the 207 million people living in Pakistan, hardly 10,418 identify themselves as transgender. This in itself is a sham, argues Rana, claiming that the number is far higher.
Rana, born male, says she started feeling more feminine at a very early age.
“I used to wear a dupatta (shawl) when my brothers and father went out from the house,” she said, “I liked cooking in the kitchen and took interest in makeup.”
The 50-year-old trans rights activist recalls her formative years when her father admitted her to a public school, unlike her other siblings who all went to private one.
“I didn’t understand why my brothers and sister went to an English medium school and I went to one where we used to sit under a tree,” she said, “The weather was very harsh and there was no cold water to drink.”
At home, Rana was often rebuked by her brother for being too feminine.
“They scolded me for behaving like a girl. They did not like the way I walked and talked. Harassment for me began at home,” said Rana, “But my parents also supported me, to some extent.”
Feeling uncomfortable at home, Rana joined the Guru-Chaila community in her teens.
“When I joined my guru, she was very caring and supporting,” Rana reminisces. “Her chailas were also very welcoming. I felt safe and at ease.”
Believing she had support from her family, Rana was once called by her father to visit home as who she “really is.”
“I was really proud that my family was accepting me for who I am,” said Rana, “But my guru warned me not to go dressed up as a woman. I did not listen.”
On reaching home, Rana was shocked to see her close relatives. Her father asked her to sing and dance like she did in events.
“He had a Rs.1 stack of 100 rupees and asked me to dance like I do in events. I told him that I can’t,” she said, “I sat down on the carpet and started crying. My mother also intervened and asked my father to stop creating a scene.”
Sharing an incident of her close friend’s death, Rana said they were asked strange questions when they reached a police station to get clearance of her friend’s body to take it to her native village.
“Do you people bury your dead at night, at home or vertically? Are there any funeral prayers? We were asked questions as if we were not humans,” she said, “They were all smiling and questioning.”
Pakistan’s first transgender woman model, Kami Sid, shared her experience from her school days. She was a young boy at the time.
“Students used to call me names because of the way I walked. They called me hijra, chaka [derogatory terms for transgender people],” said Sid, “Even the teacher used to tell me to sit among girls instead of telling the boys how to behave. They told me to walk like a boy.”
In 2017, the Parliament approved the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) bill. This was later amended and passed unanimously by the Senate in March 2018. The bill not only empowers transgender people to determine their own gender but also safeguards their basic human rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
The bill has made the denial of right to admission to an educational institute punishable with up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs300,000.
The said bill has come into existence through the tireless efforts of the Gender Interactive Alliance, a non-governmental organization that has come a long way since its inception in 2009. Rana, as the GIA’s president, commands some respect in private hospitals and they now tend to accommodate a transgender person needing medical aid.
“They know who I am, so they help us even in the middle of the night, but if a transgender person goes by themselves, hospitals do not treat them,” said Rana.
There have been instances when transgender people have been denied medical treatment simply on account of their gender.
One such incident occurred in Peshawar in 2016 when a transgender person, Alisha, was shot eight times. She would later succumb to her wounds at Lady Reading Hospital because the staff couldn’t decide whether to put the 23-year-old in a male or a female ward.
Rana lamented that hospitals don’t have a third-gender drug distributing window. “You see one window for male and one for female. Where is our window? Aren’t we human beings?”
Even entering hospitals is not a walk in the park for a transgender person. Rana says they are subjected to taunts and humiliation by guards at the entrance.
“Guards ask us why you are here? Where are you going? We got to hospitals in pain and agony and they treat us like this,” she said, “We surrender or rights right there.”
Even after getting though embarrassment at the entrance, Rana says doctors are no less demeaning.
“The male doctor says female will check; the female says male will check,” said Rana, “And for hospital wards, there is only male or female. There is no ward for us. Where will we go?”
According to Sid, discriminatory remarks are made by the doctors during medical check-ups.
“If a normal person has an allergy, then it is just an allergy, if a trans-person has an allergy then it will be because of sex-work,” she lamented.
According to UNAIDS Pakistan Reports 2017, one of the issues that has opened up public discussion about LGBT rights has been the effort to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with other men, but who do not necessarily identify as being gay or bisexual. The report suggests that they are targeting night truck drivers who are known for having sex with younger men.
A 2009 survey report titled ‘Multiple Risk Among Male and Transgender In Pakistan’, published in the Journal of Health Research found that male and transgender sex workers in Pakistan were at high risk of HIV/AIDS. Because of lack of knowledge and education on this topic, the sex worker’s health is at risk and needs to be focused and paid attention on and victims should be treated.
Farzana, a beggar, claims they mostly take care of themselves by self-medication because hospitals are too troublesome.
“Hospitals do not take us seriously. They make fun of us so we do not go there,” the 38-year-old said. “We just go to the local pharmacy and get medication from there and that is it.”
She decried the stereotypical mind set of Pakistani society that was quick to paint her whole community with same brush.
“Because of some sex-workers, people believe that we all are sex-workers. We would not beg in the streets if we were in that line of work,” said Farzana.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published in 2017, law enforcement agencies were ordered by Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2009 to improve the response in cases involving transgender people. Despite these orders, reports of violence against the transgender community have only increased over time.
Alisha’s was one of many cases in recent years. According to program co-ordinator of NGO Blue Veins, Qamar Naseem, in addition to the over 1,133 violent attacks, 55 members of transgender community have been murdered between 2015 and 2017 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP) alone.
Because of the power-dynamics, transgender people have been kidnapped, raped and even brutally killed. When they seek aid from law enforcement agencies, treatment at police stations is not different from hospitals even though the Transgender Protection Bill states that the law enforcement agencies will be sensitized to transgender rights.
“They make fun of us saying that the nature of your work is the cause of the violence against you,” said Rana, “You are what you are so we cannot do anything.”
With the police’s callous attitude, Rana questioned, “How are we supposed to tell the police where and how we have been beaten?”
Rana claims police generate a fake FIR (First Information Report) and make transgender people do unnecessary medical check-ups. “We will bring the victim to the hospital, complete all the formalities. Only then will the police register the FIR,” she said, “Till then, the culprit runs away.”
There is hardly ever respectable employment for members of the community. Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer, Nisha Rao, asserts that law enforcement agencies are troublesome for the transgender community who are barely making ends meet.
“Police is now picking of transgender beggars and handing them over to Edhi centres,” said Rao. “If they don’t beg, how they will eat?”
The transgender protection bill incorporates all necessary arrangements to make the transgender people’s lives easier. “We had demanded a quota of jobs. We should have reserved seats for government jobs,” said Rao, “But the government has reduced it to what is acceptable to them.”
Rejecting the 2017 census, Rana believes the population of trans people in the country is far higher than the 10,000 that has been reported.
“There more than 100,000 trans people in Pakistan who are HIV positive according to medical records. Then how come there are only 10,000 trans people in Pakistan?” questioned Rana.
According to Sid, the census was a sham. She was of the opinion that politicians are doing what they do best.
“They declared us 10,000 only because of the job quote of 3% trans people have in the bill. More transgender people will get jobs if they tell our original number which is in hundreds of thousands.”
Speaking about the transgender protection bill, Sid said, “The bill is there, it is not implemented. We can only pray that it is. Till the time laws are not implemented, nothing will change.”
For now, people like Sid and Rana live in constant turmoil with their surroundings. They believe education and awareness are the only recourse.
“We need sensitization in our schools for teachers because they work as the foundation of growth for any child,” said Sid. “We need to sensitize our society because the one we live in right now, cares more about what others may think about them instead of the sentiments of our loved ones.”