Marria Qibtia S Nagra
TRAGICALLY shunned and ostracized yet struggling to battle against the odds by working in a salon to fund her education, when Marvia Malik, Pakistan’s first ever Transgender TV newscaster, stood in the news studio reading out news, reaching out to an audience that generally discourages and manifests averseness to the very idea of transgender engagement in public and social affairs, she was not only making a personal history, but was rewriting the social history of a region that has conveniently stereotyped transgender attitudes and responses, by reducing opportunities for them to eke out a respectable living and deeming it appropriate to inflict them to horrific modes of violence. Analysed in this context, Marvia’s news casting was allusive of her audaciousness at creating a respectable social space for herself within which she could materialize her learned skills, and manifest her eloquence and gift of speech, something dispossessed from the transgender community.
However, deeming Marvia’s personal success as a potent indicator of social acceptability of transgenders in Pakistan is nothing but a fallacious approach. It is of course, a significant instance, but it is the only one. While Marvia was able to carve a space for herself, the heart of the matter is that till date transgenders in Pakistan continue to suffer atrocious modes of violence. This is aptly manifested in the cold blooded murder of two transgender in the northwestern area of Peshawar, just a couple of days after Marvia made her TV debut. Such cases abound in number and usually the perpetrators of the crime move about scot-free.
Though the government claims to work for ensuring transgender protection, be it through its recognition of transgenders by issuance of National Identity Cards in 2012, or the much recent decision to send transgenders for Hajj, the reality is that, legal victories for ensuring transgender inclusivity hold little worth when the parochial social contours of the Pakistani society barely make it possible for transgenders to survive without the fear of outright castigation. This duplicitous social reality, where on one hand the government and NGO’s are working towards bringing about reforms pivoting around transgender security and on the other hand a large population of the country making survival an ordeal in itself for transgenders is problematic to say the least. It is not only an outright rejection of the constitution of the state, Article 25 of which maintains that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex”, but is a ghastly reality that is strengthening the narrative of marginalization, where it comes across as a norm rather than an oddity which in contrariety needs to be combated for warranting social integration.
In the wake of this reality, it is the pervasive incongruous social attitudes that mandate an overhaul. For this fore mostly of all there needs to be a widespread social acceptance of the positive role that the transgender community can play in the progression of the country. Though the August 2107 census of the country places the population of transgenders at 10,000 only, Bindya Rana, transgender activist and founder of Gender Initiative Alliance, holds that there are about 300,000 to 500, 000 transgenders over the country. Tapping the potential of a sizeable population of transgenders, by providing them adequate opportunities for education could be a real game changer for the country’s marginalized community. However, for this organizational malpractices’ need to be focalized as well where when transgenders are employed in any capacity, they should be deemed much worthier than earning capital through dance or beggary alone. A sad case in point is whence a couple of years ago the regional revenue office in Karachi resorted to hiring transgenders for debt collection, they were categorically instructed to dance outside debtor’s homes to disgrace them into paying up. Moreover, it is time that equitable punishments are not only sentenced but subjected to perpetrators of crimes against transgenders. For this the police force of the country needs to render its due role, a task that it has generally failed at. A report by NGO Aurat Foundation highlights this grave reality, stressing on the fact that the police officials usually disregard complaints by transgenders conversely profiling and harassing them in public spaces.
Furthermore, the media, whether print or electronic, can play an encouraging role in highlighting the plight, concerns and conundrums of the transgender community. Instead of focusing prime slot TV shows on inconclusive bantering between politicians of opposing parties, it is time that real issues are brought into focus, streamlining the state narrative in the favor of transgenders inclusivity and allowing the public to perceive them as capable agents for social change. Liberation from societal tags mandates displaying a level of herculean resilience despite the mammoth odds impeding ones social and individual progress. While Marvia Malik was able to do so, others from her community are not lucky enough and need social acceptance through public support. Envisioning social inclusivity by disregarding marginalized quarters of the society is akin to dwelling in a fool’s paradise. It needs to be comprehended that one’s gender identity does not make him lesser of a human. One’s speech patterns does not make him worthy of someone’s impudence. For humanity cannot and should not be pigeonholed. While Marvia’s case is a positive step in the right direction, Pakistan cannot claim to win this race for this is just the beginning to the road towards social inclusivity and a lot awaits to be done.
— The writer, freelance columnist based in Lahore, has profound interest in English Literature, Psychology & IR.