Pakistan: Impunity and violence against Transgender community rises

Asia Human Rights
October 4, 2017
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

Pakistan's transgender community is the most ostracised and beleaguered community in the country. Shunned for being gender less, they are restricted to begging, prostitution and dancing, to earn their livelihood. Reduced to the level of sub-humans, the transgender community are devoid of any rights or even identity.

In Pakistani society, the transgender community find it an uphill task to demand equitable rights for themselves. Even the right to use the rest room is a battle that is far from over; they are in fact fighting for the basic right to exist.

Despite civil society efforts, the topic of transgender remains taboo. People are not comfortable being around them, and feel awkward in their presence. While many with sadistic tendencies resort to violence against the eunuchs, the state does not even acknowledge the transgender community, let alone condemn or take actions against perpetrators of violence.

On 30 August 2017, a transgender woman Chanda, was shot dead by a group of unidentified men in Karachi. The men were on their nightly patrol of the roads frequented by the transgender community for begging, at which time they would hurl eggs and water at them. That night, as the men were harassing Chanda's group, they retaliated with verbal abuse. The men were in a white vehicle, bearing tinted glass and private security guards. The car initially went pass the transgender people after the abuse, but later returned. At that time the men opened fire at the group, and Chanda received gunshot wounds, resulting in her death.

While the police have registered a case against the unidentified men, it is highly unlikely that the responsible persons will be apprehended. Even if perpetrators are arrested, they are usually released on bail, and they continue with their crimes. One day before Chanda was shot for instance, Sheera, a person accused of raping and looting several transgender women, was released on bail. Immediately following his bail, he was seen in a video threatening to kill members of the transgender community. Taking notice of the threat, the community demanded the police to apprehend Sheera. Only after a group of 60 transgender people protested and stopped traffic outside the police station, did the police file an FIR.

The transgender community sees these incidences as a conspiracy to eliminate them from society. The state is a party to the conspiracy by virtue of its silence. The 2017 Census recorded 10,418 transgender individuals in the country, making them 0.24 percent of the total population. Many transgender activists have dismissed the Census results however, stating that the actual number of transgender persons living in Pakistan was much higher. According to various NGO surveys, there are more than one million transgender persons in Pakistan, but many are too scared to reveal their identity.

Many vocal transgender individuals have lamented the fact that they are no longer safe even inside their homes, as they are chased incessantly by sadistic and frustrated men who derive pleasure out of making life a living hell for the hapless transgender community.

The state has always been a silent spectator of the violence, and does nothing for its transgender citizens' suffering. Recently, when two transgender lost their lives in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the government of Pakistan didn't even acknowledge them as Pakistani citizens. The Saudi Police allegedly tortured and killed 35-year-old Amna, and Meeno, 26, both Pakistanis, after raiding a house in Saudi Arabia and arresting 35 transgender people. Both the deceased were stuffed inside a gunny bag and beaten with sticks, causing their death.

Tireless efforts of civil society organizations brought the case to the media's attention. The transgender community had to raise the money to bring back the stranded Pakistanis from Saudi Arabia without any support from the government. No government that does not deal equitably with all its citizens can be called democratic.

The attitude of law enforcement agencies too is condemnable. The transgender community has suffered more violence at the hands of Pakistani police officers than any other single group of men. The police treat them as suspects rather than victims, blaming their lifestyle as "sex workers" for the violence against them. The community is scared to report any abuse, fearing harassment and threats from the police. Many transgender individuals have reportedly been sexually abused by police officers, who demand sexual favours from them, and even then refuse to file a complaint or FIR.

Pakistan's lack of legislation is also to blame for the nonexistence of safeguards for the community. After several community consultations, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill and The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Rights of Transgender Persons) Act was drafted and is pending in the senate. The community consistently demand for its promulgation, so that they may seek redressal.

The Asian Human Rights Commission believes that transgender rights are an integral part of human rights, and need to be safeguarded at par with the rights of other citizens and residents. Legislators must expedite the Transgender Persons bill so that the community can obtain relief from the atrocities meted out to them on a daily basis. The state should also allocate some funds for the transgender community so that they can learn some skills and earn a respectable living.