KARACHI: Exactly at 4:10pm on Friday — an hour after the programme was supposed to kick off — a large group of transgenders clad in their trademark sparkly clothes and heavy makeup entered the auditorium at the National Museum.
As they started to fill up the seats, a member of the community, who was dressed in a cheerful shade of yellow, apologised, “Sorry for being late. Our bus had an accident at Kala Pul,” she explained.
The seminar, titled ‘Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’, was hosted by an organisation formed by the transgender community, Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA).
The commissioner, who had arrived on time, left before the hosts arrived, citing a meeting with the chief secretary as the reason for his departure. “It would have been good if they were here and had heard me speak,” he said.
To an almost empty hall — bar a few cameramen and reporters — Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui appealed to all government and private sector organisations to engage the members of the transgender community in their institutions. “They should be brought into the mainstream. They are very talented.”
Siddiqui recalled that the very morning, he had signed an appointment letter of a transgender who would be working for the price and control department. “We are also organising a table tennis match for them,” he added.
Once the transgender did arrive, they took the opportunity to highlight the problems faced by their community on a daily basis. “There is harassment everywhere. On the street, in the shops, everywhere.”
A representative of the GIA, Riffi Khan said that they are grateful to the Supreme Court for recognising them as citizens but said others should also play their part in enabling them earn their rightful position as respectable members of the society.
“The literacy rate is tragically low in the community since their families often disown them,” said Khan. “When they come to us, we are unable to be of help since our elders are not educated enough to teach them.”
But Khan is a ray of hope for her community. Fortunate enough to have the support of her family, she has two graduate degrees.
Khan also added that the two-per-cent job quota needs be implemented so that their community is not left with dancing and begging as their only options to earn a livelihood. The transgender also lashed out against a programme aired on a news channel in which the host broke into a house of a transgender with the police.
Sawaira, whose house the media team and police stormed into at two in the morning, said that after watching the programme, her mother became very ill and one of her sisters was divorced. “What did the anchor achieve apart from destroying someone’s family? What right did she have to invade my privacy this way?”
The vice-president of the organisation, Mazhar Anjum, encouraged her fellow transgenders to step forward and prove their abilities. “Some of us are good at cooking and tailoring. We should step forward and show our talents to the world.” Anjum said that she had contested from the PS-130 constituency in the last elections and was now working for the social welfare department. “The day is not far when we will have a transgender parliamentarian.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2014.