Life turned a bit difficult for Rizwan Haider in the past few weeks after he volunteered to teach transgenders (khawajasaras) in an adult-literacy centre. Haider is a government employee in Sillanwali town, district Sargodha in central Punjab.
“It was the local administration’s decision to pay attention to this neglected transgender community and give them some basic education and skills to enable them to improve their lives,” Haider tells The News on Sunday the reason why he was motivated to become their teacher — an act that youngsters and even some elders of the society did not like.
They mocked at me in the streets saying, “Look, there he is — the teacher of khusras (transgender people).” He recalls how they would make fun of him the moment they spotted him in the street.
“I was a little disturbed but did not lose heart and continued to go to the centre to teach almost two dozen members of the transgender community,” he says, narrating how challenging it is to even sympathise with this isolated and neglected community in a remote rural background. “Sometimes, I thought the society is doing this to me who is only teaching them for a short period but how challenging must the life of these khawajasaras be.”
The new commissioner (chief administrator of the division) is personally motivated and has come up with a plan to teach and give basic skills to this marginalised community. “I had always thought that if given a chance, I would do something for their welfare,” says Nadeem Mahbub, Commissioner Sargodha. “I got this opportunity in Sargodha where I had some administrative resources at my disposal to undertake such initiatives. I always felt sad that they are part of our society but we do not even consider them human and treat them with disdain. They also deserve a fair chance. Such initiatives should further be taken up at the provincial and national level so that the khawajasaras are integrated in the society in a sustainable manner.”
In the past few months, the divisional administration has managed some adult literacy centres, skill training short courses and health camps in different areas of the division to attract the transgender community which, reportedly, is numbered at about 300 in Sargodha and its suburbs. According to officials, a sizeable number of transgenders people live in Sargodha city, Sillanwali and Joharabad (district Khushab). The programme has been named ‘Teesra Rukh’.
The divisional administration has, with the help of Literacy Department, held a four month adult literacy course in which it also provided reading material to the attendees. A second batch of the classes will start soon. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has also been signed with TEVTA (Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority) for skill development courses for khawajasaras, offering three months specialised courses of beautician (makeup artist) and tailoring, urging philanthropists to step in too. A total of 70 transgenders enrolled for the literacy classes while 57 entered the examination.
“Initially, it was difficult to find khawajasaras in these areas. Some were traced through social welfare department who are making their lists in compliance of Supreme Court’s orders to make their computerised national identity cards (CNICs) to register them in the voters’ lists. And some were traced with the help of local gurus (mentors) of these khawajasaras after offering some incentives like a short-term stipend etc,” says Sanaullah, district coordinator of literacy department Sargodha.
Sanaullah says “in the beginning it was difficult to motivate the members of this community because they were already unhappy with some non-government organisation which had registered them for such offers and later vanished”.
“They were reluctant in the beginning. I met them individually and motivated them to join the class,” says Haider. “The biggest motivation for them is the hope for a better future rather than begging and dance.”
In 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ruled that transgender community has equal rights as citizens. The court also recognised their right over family inheritance and urged the government to give all rights to eunuchs in all fields of life including education and employment “in a dignified manner”. In the same year, the apex court also ordered the transgender people to be mentioned as a gender in country’s national database. However, the judgment is still on paper and respective governments have yet to implement this decision.
“We are glad because we are learning new things which seem to be better than dancing, especially with growing age in a rural background,” says Nadeem Mitho, a transgender in mid-twenties who has benefited from the literacy course. “Following the orientation, I intend to do tailoring course and open a shop when I grow old to secure my future.”
Another transgender Reema, who has joined the beautician training session, used to beg in the town. “Now I intend to start my own beauty parlour and seek some loans for the purpose,” she says urging the government to make friendly policies for them. “We are in isolation and the society neglects us. Unless there is a strong institutional support we cannot move forward positively. We end our lives in streets begging or going in further isolation as we grow old. For society we are a source of entertainment so long as we are young.”
Muhammad Asif, in mid 30s, is a transgender in Islamabad — running a mobile phone retail shop for the past few years, setting example for many like him, encouraging them to start business. He learned the skill after spending six months in another shop. “Such business and initiatives are always good. Beautification, tailoring, mobile repairing and even setting up flower shops are some good start-ups for our community.” Appreciating such steps in the rural areas on the personal motivation of some officials, he further urges the government to take steps in this direction to empower this forgotten gender.
The divisional administration plans to find more platforms to provide them technical training such as mobile repairing and electronic repairs training etc. “It is only through such steps and awareness that we can see them as respectable, self-sufficient and independent citizens of our country,” Mahbub asserts.
In Pakistan, there is no census data yet that counts transgender people as third-gender. In the last census, the number of people in “others” category was 1.8 million, which is presumably the population of transgender community in the country. Some other research studies indicate approximately one out of 50 children is identified with a transgender tendency, which is nearly two per cent of the total population.
The article was published under the title Lessons from Sillanwali in The News on Sunday on February 19, 2017.