Credit must be given where it is due. As such, we must celebrate and continue to support the effort various government departments have made to put into practice the Supreme Court’s directive that people from the transgender community be given computerised national identity cards and registered as voters for the upcoming elections. On January 25, transgendered persons got a morale boost as the first voters from their community began to be registered in Punjab. Scenes of celebration dominated the day as eunuchs expressed hope at finally being integrated into the larger social and political landscape. The swift action by the Punjab government, NADRA and the Election Commission is commendable. Still, it must not be forgotten that registering transgendered persons as voters is simply the first step towards a larger goal: that is, elevating their status to a point where social stigma no longer hinders their ability to function in society. This, unfortunately, is as pervasive as ever and has been cited as a reason for delays in their registration in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Eunuchs claim that society’s more conservative elements will never accept them and their fears are not unfounded — for most continue to live a ghettoised existence.
It is essential to note that this stigma cannot be overcome without significant effort from both sides: the government and the transgender community. Now that the government is taking definite measures to uphold the community’s rights, transgendered persons are urged to take a step forward and demonstrate readiness to participate in social and political life. That Shahana Abbas Shani, President of the She-Male Association, intends to contest elections from Muzaffargarh is an encouraging sign. Shani’s intention signifies a desire to participate in political life as an equal and, it is this belief in their own equality that will help transgendered persons command the society’s respect. Now that their equal legal status is being cemented, it will no longer do for eunuchs to think of themselves as second-class citizens. If the eunuch community continues to motivate its own, a rush of voter registration from other provinces is sure to follow soon, heralding a new beginning for a misunderstood community.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2012.