Waris Nadeem, 12, is a student at a religious seminary and not at a regular school. Reason? His father is a transgender.
“I want to study at a school, but my father enrolled me in madrassa,” Waris who studies at a seminary in G-8 sector of the capital city, told The Express Tribune. Right after his sixth grade exams, his father Nadeem Kashish enrolled him in the seminary to shelter him from the bitter truth about his father’s gender identity.
Once he was a sex worker. But the day he became a father, everything changed for Nadeem. “Waris changed my life. After his birth, I changed my lifestyle. Now, educating my only child has become my biggest aim and dream. I want to keep my son away from my community members. For that, my only option was to enroll him in a boarding madrassa,” he said.
“My father has promised to let me resume my studies after two years,” says a hopeful Waris. But there are days Nadeem is unsure if this dream will be realized. In a society that tends to marginalize the “unusual”, life is a confusing battle for Nadeem and his family. People look at him quizzically, wondering how he even has a son. Nadeem chooses not to answer everybody’s questions.
A normal life for transgenders
“We convince our colleagues that they can spend a normal life. We also approach parents of children with gender ambiguity to make them understand that this is a natural phenomenon the child cannot help. We request religious scholars to use the platform of mosques to create awareness among people about such children, because being born as a transgender is no fault of the child,” says Nadeem, clearly an activist.
Nadeem works for the uplift of the transgender community from the platform of the NGO he founded: She Male Association for Fundamental Rights (SAFAR). As president of SAFAR, Nadeem launched an awareness campaign to educate those like him about their rights. A number of his transgender friends work for SAFAR. “It is easy for us to sensitize our community members as they feel comfortable with us,” he says.
Nadeem has been working as a makeup artist for a major television news channel in Islamabad for the last seven years. He lives in a rented house in the Bari Imam area, where a fair number of his community members prefer to live.
Nadeem shares that most parents have zero tolerance if their children are born transgender, recalling his own childhood. At 15, he was thrown out of his home for a crime that fate, and not he, was responsible for. “Being born transgender was not my fault,” Nadeem says, still plagued by bitter memories. Helpless, the penniless transgender teenager wandered off to Multan city and found his guru, a term used for older transgenders who help ‘students’ learn how to live life. Some gurus, however, are known to encourage their students to turn to prostitution. Nadeem’s guru was among the latter.
“My guru conditioned me into thinking that transgenders can never turn towards normal life. He strongly suggested that I undergo a gender reassignment surgery and alter myself completely.” But Nadeem decided against it, desirous inside of a more stable and normal life. “I got married and decided to live a normal life. Had I acted upon the advice of my guru, I would have been deprived of my biggest joy, my son Waris,” he says.
A long SAFAR ahead
A disgruntled Nadeem feels that despite the Supreme Court’s intervention, the government is doing nothing for welfare of transgender community. He said that so far not a single government department has tried to assess the exact number of transgenders. His own rough estimate points in the direction that there are some 200,000 transgenders in the country. Out of them, only 2,500 have Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs). According to Nadeem, 20,000 transgenders are living in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad alone.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2013.