After a long campaign by members of the community themselves and some activists, transgender rights in Pakistan have of late emerged from obscurity. Following on the heels of the issuance of the first third-gender passport in Pakistan in June, two bills have recently been introduced by a JUI-F MNA, Naeema Kishwar Khan, aimed at codifying the rights of transgenders. One of the bills proposes amendments to the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. It includes a loose definition of the term ‘transgender’ and stipulates sanctions for depriving such persons from inheriting property, unlawfully evicting them from any premises or denying them entry to educational institutions. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2017, includes measures such as official recognition of an individual’s identity as they perceive it, and protection from harassment and discrimination.
Logically speaking, the Constitution should have been enough to guarantee transgenders the rights granted to each and every Pakistani. Not so in this cultural milieu, however, where gender determines much of how an individual’s life plays out, and what society owes to him/her. In such an environment, transgenders are by definition at a disadvantage. Ironically, not so long ago, eunuchs or transsexuals — a term that falls under the transgender umbrella — enjoyed an elevated status in the royal courts of undivided India. Over time however, in a cruel inversion of fate, they were reduced to a wretched existence, pandering to the fetishes of society that dehumanized and treated them with contempt. There have been a number of instances of horrific abuse against them, of rape, battery and other kinds of violence met with indifference or even ridicule by those in a position to help. The proposed legislation on the anvil is, therefore, sadly enough, much needed. But, as honour killings demonstrate, the law is insufficient in itself to eradicate social evils or change cultural behavior. State and society both have to be proactive in bringing transgenders into the mainstream through opportunities in education and employment.