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Unwillingness to tap into immense potential: what the transgender community can contribute to Pakistan

Unwillingness to tap into immense potential: what the transgender community can contribute to Pakistan

They are a group of individuals who are raped, spat on, cursed and condemned. A group of individuals which our society regards inferior, treats as second hand citizens and writes off as obsolete. The sad reality of the existence of such individuals, also known as transgender (TG) or Khwaja Siras, is that they remain as hidden jewels, untapped potential within the fabric of our very fragile and intolerant society.
There is nothing more wretched than a government failing to capitalise on the talent, value and willingness of its citizens by excluding them from the workforce. That being said, successful integration as evident by the Cantonment Board, Clifton stands as a beacon of hope in an ever dismal society. But first as with every systemic issue perpetrating a civilisation, the question which we must ask is: what is the value of such citizens in the eyes of the average Pakistani bystander and how can we change it?
Let us forget for a second that such individuals are even denied the same rights as the average citizen. Instead let’s view this dilemma from the heartless perspective of how much economic value we are forgoing by failing to provide TGs with jobs. Around 500,000 Khwaja Siras are estimated to exist within Pakistan. Their only methods of earning money is through begging, dancing or sex work. Outside these industries, the only two places which are currently employing TGs are NADRA and the Cantonment Board. However such positions are scarce and very few are lucky enough to enjoy such a luxury.
Whilst there has been progress since 2011, there still remains a gap between the legal rights and social status of TGs. In 2011, the Supreme Court passed laws enabling TGs to obtain their own ID cards which recognise them as a ‘third sex’. In 2012 more laws were passed securing them free health, free education, 2% quota in government, a community centre, inheritance and transgender optional rights. However despite trainers being paid for 10 months to mobilise such services, little effort has been made to execute such orders.
So where does this leave the TG community? What are they doing to help themselves? What are their hopes and aspirations?
Many TGs recognise that they are not educated and so the job market will only exist for them in a limited capacity. Yet they claim that they can, and wish, to work in fields pertaining to nursing, cooking, boutiques and the public sector. Nasra, a transgender from the Cantonment Board, Clifton emphasises that the traditional function of TGs as dancers is dwindling with people now preferring to hire men, women and dancing themselves at functions. This only further limits the already waning employment market for TGs, which is why the fight for jobs has become all the more urgent. She claims that the government should, and must, supply them with more jobs. She believes that when the public service leads, the private sphere will follow.

A slow movement…
The Cantonment Board, Clifton started employing TGs in January 2010 and currently employs eight. They state that their main motivation for being the first to hire TGs was to aid the goal of greater social identification of TGs and also to utilise their invaluable skills as tax collectors (a model based on a decision from the Indian Supreme Court). Other than tax collection, TGs are engaged in drafting and distributing billing and demand notices. When interviewed, the confident, charismatic and engaged young team asserts that they are treated with integrity and the same support and respect afforded to other employees, which in their view supersedes prospects of a pay raise or even the fringe benefits of a governmental job. However they claim that they also have to work hard for such respect, often pulling up to 15 hour days out in the field. That being said, Shezadi, one of the employed TGs states that when they work hard and come back with successful returns, she feels their respect and integrity in the eyes of their colleagues instantly increases. Such a view is echoed by the Cantonment Board officials, who claim that their TG team is highly productive and a valuable asset to their business.
However whilst kudos goes to the Cantonment Board office for paving the way for TG empowerment and social integration, tax collection itself remains a contentious issue. A highly utilised method, TGs are often very successful in collecting taxes due to the shame that is associated with their presence on a defaulter’s property. If the defaulter refuses to pay, the TG will often dance and attempt to embarrass to extract money efficiently. Such a process has proven to be highly successful, however propels a vicious cycle whereby TGs are associated with being instruments of shame and indignity within society. When the group of TGs working at the office is questioned about whether their integrity comes into question, they all assert that none can afford to trade such a job with even meagre respect. Instead they claim that they are grateful to be given such an opportunity and know that they can do Pakistan proud if supported. Yet one TG claims that whilst the Cantonment Board office is very supportive, such an environment is rare. She estimates that only one in ten individuals out in society would be supportive of TG rights and ambitions. The most frustrating aspect for the TG community she claims, is that after being born and bred in a country, the feeling of wanting to give back to your society is natural and while most (in this country) have the luxury of working in sectors such as education and medicine, others like herself are held back from doing their part. This is even more so the case when the economy and society is rapidly deteriorating around them. She looks at me in the eye and asks, can you imagine having that ambition with the whole system against you?

A glimmer of hope
With no political party including TG rights in their manifestos, Bindiya Rana is one amongst six other candidates who ran for office in the 2013 elections. Within Bindiya’s community, people speak very highly of her. What is most admirable is that Ms. Rana does not wish to narrow her struggle to simply focus on improving the rights of TGs, rather wishes to work for all, turning a blind eye to socially stratifying factors such as age, gender, ethnicity or religion. She claims she has greater plans for transforming the health, sanitation and education levels of the community around her. Although the promise of honesty is now a redundant concept, Ms. Rana asserts that for her, truthfulness is not an option, rather a compulsion because, in her views and experiences, a person works hardest when they have absolutely nothing to lose. She claims to have no fear of dying tomorrow, as she knows she has done everything within her power to improve the lives of those around her and this in itself is immensely satisfying.
So despite being neglected and shamed by society, facing incessant institutional discrimination and lacking basic human rights, Bindiya Rana purports to stand for the system, the people and the country which seem to be against her very existence. Unlike many of our wealthy and corrupt officials, Ms. Rana possesses little else but her integrity, passion and charisma in pursing her goal. Abdul Sattar Edhi’s famous quote “there is no religion higher than humanity’’ seems to be the cornerstone of Bindiya and her community’s agenda, who ask nothing but to be integrated within society and contribute to a country which is on the brink of a social breakdown.
One concept that was echoed throughout my various discussions was eloquently put into words by Shezadi who asserted, “My determination will never cease and my passion will never extinguish, because I have no family and no place to call my own, I have meagre resources and will give my life and all that it is worth, for myself and my community to turn this country into something I could call my home.”

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