The KP Government processed driving licenses for fifteen transgender persons in the province a day ago.
This is a first for transgenders who struggle to fight for civil rights equal to those who are gender binary i.e. either male or female. This is another positive effort for greater integration of transgenders in Pakistan. Just last year, the government issued the first passport with the gender-neutral category X to trans rights activist, Farzana Riaz. Moreover, NADRA also curated a system to provision CNIC’s with transgenders allowed to list the name of their gurus as parents.
Certainly, these steps allow greater social mobility to transgenders in a country where they are stigmatized and oppressed on the daily. Passport issuance enables transgenders to travel for greater opportunities. ID cards also legally protect their rights, at least on paper. Driving licenses will certainly allow them greater mobility. But in a country where quite a many drive around without licenses, to begin with, one has to question how impactful this move will be for alleviating the social status of transgenders in the country. And herein lies the conundrum. Legal documents will only go so far in protecting the nations marginalized community. Structural discrimination exists and is worse than ever. Particularly in KP, where these legal advancements are taking place.
Let’s celebrate but also be mindful of the structural discrimination transgenders face on the daily.
Institutional discrimination is pervasive still. In January 2018, an 18-year old transgender claimed she was gang-raped by nine people in Peshawar. When the victim tried to lodge a complaint at Gulbahar Police Station, the police refused to register a first-information report (FIR) of the incident. The victim wasn’t even sent for a medico-legal examination.
And, let’s not forget the widely reported Alisha murder case from 2016. She was shot eight times and killed. An event that happened, again, in Peshawar. Homicidal maniacs cannot be rationalized with. But following the incident, KP’s Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak, refused to listen to transgenders protesting for better security. Moreover, medical examiners, instead of providing first aid, started asking derogatory questions from Alisha’s friends who desperately sought medical attention for her. All while Alisha slowly succumbed to her wounds.
These are just two cherry-picked cases from a plethora of instances that TransAction Pakistan reported over the years.
When institutions make a mockery of the very citizens they are supposed to protect, the problem is more mindset related than a legal one. Years of discrimination against transgenders in South Asia have restricted their identity to certain occupations. To break free from them will be a process, slow and steady. Moreover, Pakistani society seemingly stabilizes itself on gender binary notions of what constitutes acceptable behavior. It will take a considerable time to accept transgenders as truly credible an asset to the socio-political fabric of the country. That being said, the situation is not all that bleak.
So, what instances other than the provision of licenses should we celebrate?
Grassroots activism by the subaltern figure is the best way to rework an entire nation’s mindset. The subaltern figure, in this case, is the transgender who sits on the lowest rung of society. This certainly doesn’t mean legal steps aren’t crucial. Majorly, however, struggle from within the transgender community will best help them negotiate change on their own terms. The Khuwaja Sira Society, for instance, holds a World AIDS Awareness Day event every year. They spread education and awareness in their community themselves, without someone talking down to them from their pedestal of self-proclaimed superiority. Similarly, the trans community recently also held a Meena Bazar event for recreational and awareness purposes.
Activism from within is important to give back the social space we have encroached upon.
That is right. Gender binary persons are responsible for claiming a space that isn’t theirs, to begin with. We all must realize that systemic oppression against their community is very real. It cannot be done away with mere legal steps. Change is slow. All we can do is step aside and let transgender people fight this social battle by laying their own terms on the battlefield. Let’s celebrate such legal milestones, but not in a way that shifts the focus from transgenders to over-glorification of the government and its benevolence. But celebrate in a way that shows our fellow transgender citizens that we stand by them today and every day in their struggles going forward.