We’ve seen them dancing at weddings, draped in sequinned dresses and flashy costume jewelry, and shooed them away when they’ve approached us for loose change on busy street corners. We’ve heard about them living on the fringes of society and being forced to make a living by begging, dancing, or sex work. We’ve even read the stories of them bleeding to death after being denied treatment at public hospitals. But few of us know much about the new civil rights movement that is stirring hopes for a better life among Pakistan’s deeply marginalized transgender community.
This month, Parliament tabled the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Bill, sparking a rare sense of possibility and celebration among community members and activists who have been fighting for equal rights for years.
The tabling of the new draft law follows a series of important highs and lows in the Pakistani transgender community’s battle for equal rights. Here, we recap some of the milestones:
1.Transgender man + woman ≠ happily married — 2006.
Shumail Raj, a biological woman who had lived as a transgender man for 16 years, married a woman called Shezina Tariq in September 2006. Their marital bliss was short-lived: Raj’s father went to court and testified that she was not a man, unleashing an investigation that revealed that Raj had indeed undergone gender reassignment surgery. The court ordered the newly married couple jailed for three years and fined the doctors and the organization that had operated on Raj. Although this was a major low point in the transgender rights movement, the events sowed the seeds for what would become a highly active movement for rights and recognition for the community.
2.Lahore High Court okays sex change surgery — 2008
In a landmark decision, the Lahore High Court allowed a 28-year-old girl, Naureen Aslam, from the city of Gujranwala to undergo a sex change operation in 2008. In Aslam’s case, her surgeon refused to perform the operation until she got permission from the court. And that’s exactly what she did!
3.Supreme Court says “third gender” folks deserve equal rights- 2009
In what has come to be known as the 2009 “Transgender Recognition Case” by the International Court of Jurists, in Khaki v. Rawalpindi, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a decision ensuring the rights of “eunuchs” and officially established legal recognition for a third gender category in Pakistan. This was important for two reasons; firstly, it recognized transgender as full and equal citizens of Pakistan. Secondly, it gave transgender people basic rights such as inheritance, employment and education and the right to vote. What a spectacular victory!
4.Lahore Hight Court allows sex change operation, AGAIN- 2010
Sami Saleem, born a biological male, filed a court petition seeking that she felt she was actually a woman and the court should allow her, on psychological grounds, to change the gender assigned to her at birth. The court gave her the go-ahead, in what is considered one of the most important milestones in Pakistan’s nascent trans rights movement. Don’t you just love the Lahore High Court?
5.Man and transgender woman ALMOST married- 2010
In Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, Malik a local trader and Rani, a transgender woman, were arrested by police during their wedding ceremony at Malik’s home, and accused of trying to initiate a same-sex marriage. Another major low for the community that only strengthened their resolve to keep fighting on!
6.Supreme Court orders Interior Ministry to appoint quotas in employment- 2011-12
Pakistan’s transgender community has found an unlikely guardian in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and particularly in the activist Chief Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar who during his tenure issued strict directives to provincial and federal governments to safeguard the rights of transgender people and ensure that they received equal opportunities, particularly for employment. Soon after Chaudhry’s judgement, many doors opened up for the community, most notably their deployment as tax collectors. Because when the hijra comes calling, you have no choice but to pay up!
7.New kid on the political block: Transgender Queen Bindia Rana- 2013
Long considered Madar-e-Khawaja Sira, or the Mother of Transgender People, in Pakistan, Bindia Rana stood for elections in the port city of Karachi in 2013. And though she didn’t stand a chance before the more powerful and heavily funded candidates from Pakistan’s major political parties, the day her name appeared on the ballot paper was a day of major triumph for trans rights in Pakistan. It was the first time a transgender person tried to be counted in the political process and paved the way for other transgender people to stand for public office, including the magnificent Madam Boota who fought for PP-78 in 2016.
8.The Mullahs get with the program- 2015
Pakistan’s Council for Islamic Ideology is notorious for its ultra-conservative views on issues, recently ruling that DNA cannot be used as primary evidence in rape cases, and supporting a law that requires woman alleging rape to get four male witnesses to testify in court before a case is heard. But in 2015, even the CII affirmed the rights of transgender people, particularly urging people to respect inheritance laws for the community.
9.Fifty Pakistani clerics say transgender people can get married- 2015
Nearly fifty clerics belonging to the little known Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat group issued a fatwa, or religious decree, declaring transgender marriage legal and saying any act intended to “humiliate, insult or tease” transgender individuals should be considered a crime under Islam. Though the fatwa is not legally binding in any way, it did help in raising awareness about trans rights and reminding people that transgender people, too, are humans just like us, with the same desires and aspirations.
10.Teesri Dhun attracts large audiences at home and goes on to play at Yale- 2015-16
Performed by an all-transgender cast, Teesri Dhun opened to rave reviews at Lahore’s prestigious Alhamara Hall, and went on to play at the Ivy League Yale University’s Marquand Chapel. With music, dancing and great storytelling, the transgender community achieved yet another important milestone.
11.Move over, Mahira Khan; Kami Sid is in the house- 2016
Kami Sid has worked for years as an activist and campaigner for the rights of Pakistan’s deeply marginalized transgender community. Late in 2016, she shot to fame when she made her debut as a fashion model. She is now a regular on talk shows and set to star in an upcoming film. She’s an absolute diva and we can’t wait to see what else life has in store for her!
12.Pakistan issues first third gender passport- 2017
In June this year, Pakistan’s government issued its first passport with a transgender category to prominent rights activist Farzana Jan, a huge milestone in the battle against discrimination. Jan’s passport now has an X to symbolise her gender identity. What an incredible win in what is hopefully just the beginning of a life of dignity and respect for Pakistan’s transgender community.
13.Transgender allowed to use gurus name on NIC -2017
On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court allowed a transgender to use the name of her guru in place of the father’s name on the official national identity card. Initially, when Mian Asiyah tried to renew her National ID card using her guru’s name in place of her father’s, NADRA objected saying that it was illegal and violated their policy. Therefore, Mian Asiyah submitted an application to the court regarding NADRA’s refusal- the presiding judge Justice Abdul Aziz remarked that there should be no policies that infringe on the basic rights of people. Following which, NADRA assured the court that Mian Asiyah will be issued a new identity card with the name of the guru in place of the father, after which the court disposed the petition. In a time when bigotry is on a rise and common morality is hard to point, the trans-revoultion is surely a step in the right direction.