Transgender people in Pakistan: Demonisation of the ‘other’

By Saima Baig


Transgender people have long been a part of the history of South Asia. Their stories are told in the Kama Sutra and they have existed in the Indian sub-continent for centuries. They were part of the courts of both Muslim and Hindu emperors and performed various spiritual and gender-liminal roles.

Subsequently, while they were not openly ostracised by society, they tended to live on its edge, making their living by performing at functions, begging and as sex workers — but never as full members of the population with rights equal to hetero-normative people. That is until recently, when Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal recognised them as a third gender, even on identity cards and passports.

One would think that this would herald better conditions and a much more promising future for them. However, this would have meant getting rid of years of entrenched misogyny and suppressed sexuality rampant in the South Asian male, especially the Pakistani male. When transgender people stuck to their prescribed roles of sex workers, dancers and beggars, everyone was fine. The troubles started when they started to ask for more rights.

As a result, a trans life was taken today, May 25, 2016. The Coordinator of Trans Action Alliance in Peshawar, Pakistan, Alesha was shot 8 times yesterday and succumbed to her injuries this morning. The people who shot her did so because she dared to help her friends who were being extorted by a gang into making porn videos and into providing sexual favours.

When Alesha’s bullet-ridden body was brought to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, the problem was not that a human being was on the verge of death. The problem was that they refused to treat her because they did not know whether to put her in the men’s ward or the ladies ward.

K-P Transaction Alliance says Alesha was targeted by extortionists asking for porn videos. Source: Facebook.
K-P Transaction Alliance says Alesha was targeted by extortionists asking for porn videos. Source: Facebook.

From 9.30 am to 1.30 pm her friends went from one hospital staff to another asking for her to be treated — but they were ignored. Finally, after a lot of social media campaigning, someone did decide to put her in the male ward because the women in the female ward objected to her presence. She had to spend the night in the hallway.

The social media campaign started by her friends finally compelled the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor to intervene and order the hospital to provide her with a private room. Still, she was not taken to the Intensive Care Unit and did not get proper treatment.

But the icing on the this very depressing cake was this: the doctors and staff of the hospital were more interested in how much her transgender friends would charge for sex services and what their rates were for a night of dance performance. This is what was posted on the Trans Action Facebook page:

“The Operation theatre male staff kept giving me their number and everyone wanted my contact information. A doctor wants to know how much I charge for dance for a night and another health technician wants to know if I only dance or also perform sex….. I mean WTF….I am with a patient who we don’t know will survive or not in next few hours…”

This is the great example of the morality that we as a nation want to show to the world. We will not only shoot someone who is “different”, but we will also refuse to treat them as human beings at all. A human life was lost because the men at the hospital would not treat her and were more interested fulfilling their sexual fantasies! The mind boggles at the inhumanity and the literal disregard for the person-hood of individuals.

This is the result of years of repression, where sex is taboo and where men think that women are fodder for their appetites just because they want to be treated as equals. Dress differently, talk differently, ask for equal rights and all of this will result in physical and mental harassment, a fact easily found by looking at the comments section of any woman’s blog or social media page.

It will take a very very long time for Pakistan to change the gutter thinking of its populace and this change will have to come from everywhere — from homes, from schools, from the media. Till then, all people like Alesha can do is try — at the risk of losing their life.


saimabaigSaima Baig is a is an environmental economist and climate change researcher currently based in Karachi. When she is not working on adaptation and mitigation strategies, she writes about various issues including religion, feminism, politics and secularism.  She is also a staunch advocate of science education, in particular astrophysics and also blogs about latest news regarding this.

View her blogs at Huffington Post and The Nation . Follow her on Twitter.


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