September 4th, 2021 

By Rehan Piracha 


LAHORE

“There would have been no need for special legislation if only the government would have ensured the citizens’ rights enshrined in the Constitution,” says Bindiya Rana, president of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) in Karachi.

On September 1, the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice recommended amendments in the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) bill to cover offences of rape against women and children but have excluded transgenders on the whole except for transgender children.

But the transgender community already has legislation that protects them from sexual violence. Bindiya is referring to the landmark law passed by the parliament in May 2018, called the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act. The law made Pakistan the first South Asian country to pass affirmative legislation for the most vulnerable and ostracized transgender community. Sadly however despite the ongoing violence against the community, the rules of business were notified after almost three years in January.

Officials unaware of rules notification

Neeli Rana, a noted transgender activist in Lahore, says government officials are not even properly aware that the rules of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act have been notified.

Neeli Rana (center) with other former members of the Khwaja Sirah Society (KSS)

“Recently, we held several capacity-building workshops for the transgender community but government officials who were present did not mention anything about the implementation of the rules,” she says.

Bindiya Rana says the law exists on paper alone and many of the affirmative actions under the law have not been implemented despite a passage of three years.

“It’s good that we have a law for the protection of the transgender community but are the officials in government departments of home, health and education even aware of its existence?” she tells Voicepk.net.

Transgender is the name for ‘tolerance’

Nayab Ali, a transgender politician based in Islamabad held a protest last month, where she and several others decried the increasing incidents of violence that take place regularly.

“From the time the law has been passed – in 2018, to present, around 76 murders of transgenders have taken place which remain unsolved to date,” says Nayab. “Three of these have taken place in the capital city itself. Otherwise, if you want to take annual figures then 16 or 17 such cases take place across the country, anyway.”

As for sexual violence and rape, Nayab says almost every transgender has faced that at least once or more in their lives.

“Every khwaja sirah is a victim but they don’t report,” she says. “I always say that transgender is another name for ‘tolerance’. They tolerate every dirt that society throws upon them and don’t even complain about it. In the same way they are raped or killed and they are silenced forever.”

Nayab says even among the transgender community there is so much lack of awareness about the law, that when they were campaigning for the draft oft the Bill, she says the community people thought they were talking about utility bills.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch quotes local human rights groups in pointing out that at least 65 transgender women have been killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone between 2015 to 2020. An unidentified assailant fatally shot Gul Panra, a transgender woman activist in Peshawar, in September.

It is no better in Punjab.

In April 2020, Musa, a 15-year-old transgender boy was gang-raped and killed in Faisalabad district, Punjab. In July, an unidentified gunman in Rawalpindi killed Kangna, a transgender woman. The murder prompted widespread condemnation on social media.

Last March, the former commissioner of Karachi, Iftikhar Shalwani, promised to ensure that the transgender community received health care and other social services without discrimination, but nothing has happened so far.

Law exists on paper alone

According to the rules, any accused transgender person should be locked up in a separate cell in a police station. However, Bindiya says police officials are unaware and possibly lack resources to such an extent that they do not even implement legislation related to women suspects.

bindiya rana

“How can the Karachi police treat transgenders separately when they don’t even have adequate facilities for women police stations or female personnel to handle woman suspects,” she points out. Technically speaking the rules also call for the provision of separate washroom facilities and separate cells for transgender inmates in jails. but all this remains to be seen.

No incentives for educational institutions

It is the same with educational institutions. Under the rules, the provincial education departments should provide incentives aimed at the inclusion of transgender persons in all educational institutions. This includes registration and gender change of new and existing admission and certification of documentation to include the ‘X’ gender category. Similarly, the rules also call for the provision of scholarships, bursaries, and opportunities for free education for transgender persons.

“For transgender students getting admissions to schools and colleges in Karachi is quite impossible as nothing is mentioned about transgenders in their prospectus despite the provision mentioned in the law,” Rana explains. Nor there has been any development of anti-discrimination policies for transgender persons in the educational institutions mentioned in the rules, she adds.

No protection centres yet

According to Section 6 of the Act, relevant provincial departments shall establish and maintain protection centres for transgender persons to provide them with medical facilities, legal support, socio-economic help, psychological care, counselling, and education. No such protection centres have been established yet.

However, Aisha Mughal, a former UNDP consultant to the Federal Human Rights Ministry, says the HR ministry is in process of establishing a first-ever protection centre for transgender persons in the federal capital in the next two months.

Hajj and Umra facilitation

Mughal, who is director of programmes at Wajood Society, an advocacy group for transgender persons, says the rules also call for the facilitation of transgender persons to perform Umra and Hajj. “The Foreign Office and Ministry of Religious Affairs have been approached to take up visa difficulties for transgender persons for Haj and Umra with the Saudi government,” Mughal says. Gulf states presently do no issue visas to transgender passport holders, she adds.

NADRA centres unaware of transgender law

Bindiya and Aisha also mention numerous complaints they have received from transgenders about difficulties and problems in receiving computerized identity cards (CNIC) from National Database Registration Authority offices.

In accordance with subsection (4) of Section 3 of the Act, NADRA shall register the name and gender of an applicant to “X”,  in accordance with his self-perceived gender identity. “In Karachi, transgender persons often face difficulties in changing their gender identity in CNICs at NADRA offices,” says Bindiya Rana. Often representatives from the GIA accompany applicants to NADRA offices to help them change their gender identity as per law, she adds.

NADRA officials in provinces are still unaware about the notification of rules and the law for the protection of rights of transgender persons, Mughal explains. “NADRA needs to sensitise and raise awareness among officials at NADRA centres across the country about the provisions of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018,” she says, pointing out that under the rules NADRA has to appoint an official at each centre to facilitate transgenders.

Provincial legislation required

According to Rana and Mughal, provisions relating to education, health, detention, access to public places, and employment mentioned in the rules have to be backed with separate legislations in the provinces following the 18th Amendment in the Constitution.

Rana says her organisation has drafted a bill on transgender rights and given it to the Sindh government. Similarly, GIA will draft bills for Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces so that the provincial governments could kickstart their legislation on transgender persons.

Govt jobs a far cry

According to Section 16 of the rules, aII government authorities shall formulate and maintain a transgender employment policy for the integration of transgenders in the workforce in accordance with their skills, experience, and qualifications.

“The Government shall employ at least one transgender In each Division and provincial department,” read the rules.

But, Rana says no headway has been made in providing employment to transgender persons in government departments. “Two transgender teachers were appointed in a government college in Karachi amid much media spotlight but both had to leave as their appointment letters never materialized,” Rana adds.

Mughal says former chief justice Saqib Nisar had also announced two vacancies for transgenders in the Supreme Court administration office but the appointments were never made. “The federal and provincial governments have to make employment policy for transgender and intimate this to each department so that they hire them,” Mughal point outs.

ECP yet to facilitate transgender candidates

According to Section 23 of the rules, the Election Commission of Pakistan is also yet to facilitate transgenders to stand as candidates in elections. The Election Commission is to stipulate a nominal fee for nomination papers to mobilize and facilitate the inclusion of transgender persons in electoral rolls. Besides, the Election Commission is to include a separate column for gender category ‘X’ for transgender persons in the nomination papers to contest in elections.

“The Election Commission has not made the changes in nomination papers even in 2018 general elections,” says Bindiya, who contested the election of a provincial assembly seat in 2013.

Census figure disputed

Bindiya also disputes the figure of over 10,000 transgender persons in the country given in the census.

“GIA has over 13,000 members in Karachi alone,” she claims, adding that in her estimates the transgender persons numbered over 400,000 in the country. The government has downplayed the figures in the census to deny facilities to the transgender community under the law, she adds.

However, she says the transgender community has not lost all hope and many continue to work towards the provision of rights guaranteed to them as citizens in the Constitution.

Last year, the International Commission of Jurists had praised the landmark legislation in a briefing paper. “These provisions in the Act, if enforced in their true spirit,  have the potential to ensure transgender people can live their lives with dignity, as provided by Pakistan’s Constitution, but which has been denied to them for decades,” the ICJ said.

 

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