Transgenders – Distinguished By Nature, Discriminated By Society

Transgenders – Distinguished By Nature, Discriminated By Society

Nature distinguishes while society discriminates – a major chunk of this problem lies within the norms and values which people have instilled or infused in society. There are almost 300,000 members of the transgender community, also known as khawaja siras or hijras in our country. They get harassed, abused, discriminated against and sometimes raped as well. The problem doesn’t just lie within the law but also in the society that we live in. They bear the brunt of some of the worst discrimination because of social unacceptability. This is the case not only in Pakistan but also in more progressive countries like the United States, where the President himself announced to ban transgenders from armed services.

It is the responsibility of the state to protect each and every individual from discrimination and harassment and protect individual rights through legislation or other possible means. There is a legal maxim, “justice delayed is justice denied”, but it has taken us 70 years after independence just to recognize the gender of transgenders and their existence. Before the judgment passed by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, khawaja siras were like the living dead.

Moving on, the state introduced a quota system for the transgender community for government jobs, etc. This may have seemed like a positive step towards progress and social acceptability but I call it a systematic discrimination or an easy way out. I would like to compare it with the colonial regime in South Africa, under the Bantu Education Act 1953, where separate schools and education systems were introduced for the black people. It looks like they got their right to education but they were systematically discriminated against by the British studying in separate schools. Giving opportunities through the quota system does not eliminate the actual problem. In fact, it still creates a taboo about them being inferior and weaker in the society.

To eliminate this problem, the state must legislate to nip it at its roots. The state must make laws which can create social acceptability of the third gender and break down mafias behind the exploitation of transgenders for their own personal benefits. In a country like Pakistan, one will mostly see a transgender person begging on the streets, indulged in prostitution and speaking in a specific style. Is every transgender born into a poor family? No! Parents disown them and give them to the community which adopts them and later on exploits them for their own benefits or, with an optimistic approach, it can be said that they have to do this due to the lack of support.

Laws must be made to punish those who disown their children and those who exploit them and create a taboo by involving them in certain activities. Imposing these restrictions can normalize things in the long run. Even if parents disown a transgender child, orphanages must adopt and raise that child and educate him or her like the other children. This could increase acceptability in future because since childhood they would have been living together with other male and female children without awkwardness. Campaigns by the state and NGOs can be of great help in this regard. There is also a psychological phenomenon that when you start hearing something repeatedly, you start believing it or accepting it as the truth. This taboo can easily be desensitized through such campaigns.

Even though the state should not be held liable every time, if one feels pity for the those who do not know their rights, it is due to the lack of education, the responsibility of which again lies on the organs of the state. Again, this connects strings with social acceptability and law. Transgenders do not move out of their homes or not join schools and jobs because of social unacceptability, and the responsibility lies with the state to make laws to end such taboos and destructive social problems from society.

Kamran Arif, Vice-President of Independent Human Rights, once wrote that the society was becoming intolerant and people were facing discrimination due to the education imparted by madrassas and religious schools, but I disagree. As mentioned above, the President of the United States does not follow any madrassas or muftis and yet proposed to ban the transgender community from the US army. On the other hand, muftis or religious scholars in Pakistan have also given a fatwa declaring that transgenders can marry each other.

At the end of the day, intolerance or unacceptability does not come from religion but from the norms and values which people, their culture and their laws instil in the society. The solutions to eliminating these taboos and creating social acceptability lie with the state and NGOs working in a proper direction.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Ahmad Hassan Butt

Author: Ahmad Hassan Butt

The writer holds an LLB (Hons) degree from the University of London and is currently working at Axis Law Chambers.