Though the November 11 report in this newspaper on Khwaja Siras — a catchall term for the population of transsexuals and transgender people in the country — being denied medical checkups may not shock the average reader, who is used to much more violent news regarding their harassment, it is a telling illustration of how difficult life is for this community. The court has summoned the chiefs of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Hospital, Civil Hospital and Nadra on a complaint filed by Khwaja Siras from the Gender Interactive Alliance saying that they are being denied medical care. It is distressing that public hospitals, which exist to serve citizens, should reject patients merely on the grounds of their gender. Difficult as it is for ordinary citizens to get a response from state institutions, it is infinitely more gruelling for a community which faces rejection, ridicule and physical abuse on a daily basis.
Despite the media spotlight on them following Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s interest in their welfare, not much has changed. Action on the court’s 2009 injunction that they be issued national identity cards specifying their gender as ‘other’ has been sluggish, mainly because of the insistence that they be medically examined to determine their gender. This has been opposed by many in the community since it can potentially stigmatise them further. Without ID cards, employment options for these eunuchs are few and they carry on working in degrading conditions.
The persecution of Khwaja Siras will persist as long as society endorses their treatment as second-class citizens. Recent developments such as the employment of Khwaja Siras as tax collectors points to a welcome shift in attitudes but more needs to be done. The only thing more worthy of condemnation than a state which does not care for its citizens is a society which does not care for all its members.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2010.