“We khwaja saras are doomed!” says Kashi alias Raakhi, a resident of Nishtar Town, Lahore. “Our ‘other’ gender status is enough to keep us deprived of the zakat funds doled out by the government every year around this time.
“Being Muslims, we are also entitled to this mandatory religious charity but who cares. Neither the local zakat committees working at mohalla level nor the concerned department approach the needy and poor khwaja saras (eunuchs, or transgenders) to assist them financially.”
Lahore District Zakat Committee confirms the fact that never has a penny been paid to the transgender community, in the name of zakat.
According to an estimate, there are 0.1 million khwaja saras in Lahore alone, and it is very likely that they have never received any financial aid from zakat funds which is around Rs3 billion each year since the Zakat & Ushr Department were set up under the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance 1980.
Saima Butt, who heads the Khwaja Sara Society (KSS) in Lahore, says that most chairmen of the local Zakat committees are “maulvis” (prayer leaders) and “fanatic clergymen who have an ingrained hatred for transgenders.
“The khwaja saras feel intimidated by them. They don’t even know that the destitute among us are legally entitled to zakat funds,” she declares.
According to the constitution, law and the religion of Islam, there is no embargo on the distribution of zakat to khwaja saras. In fact, the law states that zakat funds are available for the deserving, poor Muslims irrespective of their gender.
“If the khwaja saras are Muslims and are deserving, the government should not discriminate against them, says Minister for Zakat and Usher Malik Nadeem Kamran.
When asked, the minister says he does not know exactly whether or not zakat has been given to the khwaja saras so far.
Administrator Zakat Punjab Muhammad Yousaf Butt is of the view that the law does not allocate any special quota for khwaja saras. “I also do not think there should be any quota on the basis of gender. As per Islamic jurisprudence, zakat should be distributed among all that are poor and needy.”
The Zakat Department of Punjab is planning to launch a public awareness campaign through media, beginning next month, to dispel creeping misconceptions about the use of zakat. However, their upcoming campaign has no thrust on spreading awareness among eunuchs on the issue.
Maulana Raghib Naeemi, Administrator, Jamia Naeemia, and also a member of the provincial council of zakat, opines that khwaja saras are human beings and if they are Muslims and deserve zakat, they are its beneficiaries.
Allama Zubair Ahmed Zahir, vice president of Markaz-e-Jamiat Ahle-Hadith says that the zakat system is not complicated. “Khwaja saras just need to visit the local chairman of zakat committee, submit their CNIC copy and a simple form of zakat.
“If anyone still has a grievance, he/she may directly approach us to seek financial assistance,” he claims.
Lack of awareness and motivation on the part of khwaja saras are identified as other reasons that deprive the transgender community of the fruits of zakat. None of the members of the community are cognisant of the fact that deserving members of their community may be entitled to it.
Meanwhile, some feel that people who are at the helm of affairs will never approve their cases. Nausher Khan, Project Director, Khwaja Sara Rehabilitation Program, launched by Akhuwat, a local NGO, is of the opinion that more than 300 eunuchs are paid Rs1,200 per month besides other aids in terms of medical and other facilities. This financial assistance has nothing to do with the government’s zakat funds, he adds.
It goes without saying that in the absence of a proper zakat system, the transgender community is forced to continue with their activities — that involve begging and sex trade — in order to survive in the month of Ramzan. The Supreme Court recognised them as the ‘other’ gender in 2009 but the society and the system have yet to give them their due status.