Pakistan’s supreme court recently ruled that all hijras, the Urdu catch-all term for its transvestite, transgender and eunuch community, will be registered by the government as part of a survey that aims to integrate them further into society. The ruling followed a petition by Islamic jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who said the purpose was to “save them from a life of shame”.
Khaki’s petition was prompted by a police raid on a hijra colony in Taxila, an ancient city filled with some of the oldest Buddhist ruins in Pakistan. Two of the three judges on the bench that ruled in favour if the hijra petition, chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, were under house arrest for the better part of the past three years. This, coupled with the clobbering the police gave the lawyers during their demonstrations against the suspension of the judiciary in 2007, makes it easy to regard the hijra ruling as being directed against the police.
Outside the affluent areas of Lahore, police are known to arrest and shake down members of the urban working and begging classes; and many police working at busy intersections have bad relations with the “genderqueer“.
But that doesn’t mean the current judiciary stands for greater gender equity either. Last May, one of the judges that also sat on the bench for the hijra ruling, Ijaz Chaudhry, banned the popular songstress Naseebo Lal from being played on the radio for singing vulgar songs.
Still, the ruling has brought hijras further into the public eye. They held their first protest outside the Lahore Press Club a week after the ruling. On 26 June, hundreds from around Pakistan gathered outside the club holding up placards with the verse “Who am I?” by Punjab’s most beloved poet, Bulleh Shah. The gathering was to laud the colossal effort it must have taken for the supreme court to acknowledge their existence, and to hopefully inform the public about the impoverished, and desperate conditions that they live in.
Boys who grow up genderqueer in Pakistan are often abandoned by families and left to fend for themselves during early adolescence. Most hijra colonies could be described as matriarchies, with a clear leader, referred to as the guru. Some hijras remain on the colonies, others go out to dance, collect alms or entertain city dwellers for money, which is given to the guru who ensures their food and lodging. There are other boys, referred to as pakhi was (gypsies), who live on the banks of the Ravi river in tent colonies and also dress up as women to earn money singing and dancing in public. But pakhi was dress like this to earn more money and attention, not because of their sexuality.
In a culture with strict gender codes, those who bend the rules choose to dress as hijras for many reasons. The government survey will have to decided whether or not to recognise the distinctions between hijras, street performers and even prostitutes.
This survey is also likely to be lacklustre in its execution. Previous government attempts to survey or register the working and begging classes have been ineffectual, at best. After securing a 150 rupee daily wage for labourers, the labour secretary in Lahore admitted that only a fraction of the labourers working in the city were registered. Despite a so-called guarantee by the government to keep the poor from starving to death, people are still starving to death. Without a real follow-through on the part of local districts of major cities and towns, any government surveys will remain unhelpful.
The move to recognise hijras has perhaps been part of a spillover from India’s efforts to recognise its own hijras following a stunt last April when three hijras applied to run for office to raise awareness about the “third sex issue”. As a result, hijras can now give their gender as “E” for eunuch on their passports and government forms.
One thing is for sure, though. To change the attitude towards sexuality and gender in the country, it will take much more than rulings by the courts, or surveys by the government. (Source)