Ensuring trans rights

The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) is making sure that the issue of transgender rights remains under the spotlight. This is to be welcomed. After all, Justice Saqib Nisar knows better than most how having laws on the books is not sufficient for fundamental safeguards to be upheld. Thus just four months after Pakistan passed the landmark Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018 – the CJP has taken notice of the rights deficit that still prevails; notably in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) at both the governmental and non-governmental level.

These directives come at a time when the transgender community has called for a judicial inquiry into the recent burning alive of a trans-woman in the Punjabi city of Sahiwal by four men who had tried to sexually assault. Thereby underscoring the fragile security implications for this community. It was a tragically similar story back in January of this year when a trans-woman in KP was shot eight times. Yet equally devastating is how local hospital staff failed in their duty of care by refusing to treat Alisha; the Peshawar coordinator and a board member of Trans Action Alliance (TAA). That same month, another transgender individual was gang-raped in the province. Yet the police remained unconcerned until the CJP himself took notice of the incident.

The 2018 Act was passed in May and came into immediate effect. And while we here at this newspaper rightly commended the legislation — we did, nevertheless, point out certain areas where it falls short. Such as the failure to include rape as a form of harassment. This is important for as with accepted notions of universal human rights, the right to life precludes all. This is something that women at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, particularly those from minority backgrounds, know only too well. For in Pakistan rape often ends in murder.

Almost a decade has passed since the Supreme Court (SC) granted the transgender community the right to inherit as well as officially recognising them as the so-called third gender. Towards this end, the first passports were issued to transgender citizens last year. And this summer saw five trans-women contest the general election. Though this was not without controversy given that ballot papers did not clearly accommodate the third category. Leading to ‘discrepancies’ over gender identity. Thus the need to narrow the disconnect between bureaucratic protection and real life insecurity cannot be overstated.

The CJP’s promise to hire two transgender individuals to work on the SC premises in a bid to normalise the visibility of this persecuted minority group is to be lauded. Yet it must be pointed out that the country should be less concerned with its international image when it comes to crimes against the latter. And more concerned with how ordinary Pakistanis response to such targeted violence on their soil.  *

Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2018.