2017 was the year. The year of women stepping into the limelight and addressing their harassers and tormentors head on. 2017 was when the #MeToo campaign started, declaring sexual harassment a global problem not limited to any gender. The end of this year marks an attempt to speak up against such topics that are hushed and considered taboo. Another such topic under discussion was that of the Asian transgender community.
Several milestones were achieved in the last few years in terms of transgender rights. And, we must recognize the government for the progress in legislation. For instance, the government established legal recognition for transgenders in 2009. In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry to set up employment quotas for trans people. In 2017, NADRA issued the first transgender category passport and devised a system to make CNIC’s for them as well. Just last week, the government also passed the Transgender Protection Bill of Rights.
However legislation alone does little in raising awareness. The fact that this bill was later rejected due to a plethora of inconsistencies, shows there is a lack of awareness. The trans community in Pakistan is still majorly, if not completely, treated as misfits. Most of the population is still unaware of the derogatory implications of the terms ‘hijra’ and ‘khusra’. Often still, a trans person at a signal light means windows will be rolled down. This is followed by a clap with hands clasped together and fingers wide apart. Why? To ensure the sound it produces is loud, atrocious and obnoxious. A sound that conveys the following message:
You are not welcome here. You are not home.
Awareness must come from within the whole community. And it has. Awareness initiatives like Trans Action Pakistan have brought transgender struggles into the limelight. But, the next step is the normalized integration of trans people into society. Here, amidst the cacophony of an otherwise unaccepting society, the harmonious hymn of an ad campaign was heard – #ChangeTheClap. The campaign aims to change the meaning of the clap and turn it into applause. It commemorates another step towards improving inclusivity of trans people as respected members of society. This change was noticeable through the pervasiveness of the ad campaign.
Other media platforms like TED, and renowned NGOs, like Akhuwat, also shed light on the matter. Moreover, literature also saw a commendable effort in raising awareness.
So, who is Jannat Ali and why was her presence at TEDxLahore significant?
Jannat Ali, a human rights activist, a performing artist, an NGO worker, and an MBA graduate, is the epitome of how the world needs to view transgender individuals. TEDxLahore highlighted how members of the trans community are worth more. Jannat shared her painful journey and spoke of her accomplished position in her community. Jannat also talked about her improved relations and acceptance from her family with pride. As an audience member, I was awe- inspired by her struggles and the courage she showed in facing them.
#ChangeTheClap promotes exactly this change in mindset.
Literature has also evolved to include the marginalized community of transgenders in South Asia
Celebrated author, Arundhati Roy, took the world by storm with her much-awaited novel that was in the making for a whopping 20 years. “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”, provides insight into the life of a transgender individual occupying a corner of a graveyard. She is accompanied by other misfits of her community, to live a life not understood or accepted by the world. Ironically, Roy plays on words calling that particular corner of the graveyard “Jannat House.” While all the “accepted” members of the world arrive as corpses there, a Muslim trans woman, Anjum finds a life-affirming haven. Roy uses literature to raise awareness; a different but surely effective way to bring about gradual change.
Popular NGO’s have also worked to integrate transgenders in society this year
Akhuwat and the Fountain House initiated a joint program to provide a platform for social engagement, and for the provision of modest material support to the most vulnerable and socially rejected. This amalgamation integrates the khwajasiras (transgender community) back into society as equal citizens.
So, join hands with all the influential members of society that have declared solidarity with the trans community.
There are many trans individuals who have proven themselves of being more capable than the self-proclaimed and “biologically” superior race that abides in our country.
If you’re wondering what #ChangeTheClap wishes to signify, it is to dismantle the way we view transpeople. Strip the way you approach them. To change the clap and turn ridicule into applause.
For Whom? For Jannat Ali.
In honor of Irha Parishei, an engineering student at NUST, and an aspiring model.
To honor Neeli Rana, a celebrated theatre artist
To applaud Kami Sid an activist and model
For Sunny, who suffered police brutality in Peshawar because she protested for her rights
And, to celebrate all those valuable members of our society who fight daily for a decent place in society
The list of developments and the people behind them is in no way exhaustive. But, commendable nevertheless. This movement is a motion demanding you to speak, to break the cycle and end this year by discarding the ridiculous social clichés that divide us.
Check out the campaign below!