Special Report: Despite issues, transgenders celebrate voting rights
Transgenders took a giant leap towards becoming fully fledged citizens of the land as voter registration for the community began in Punjab. They were also issued with Computerised National Identity Cards (CNIC) by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).
Special counters have been established across the province to ensure the registration of all eunuchs, thought to number about 13,500 in Punjab. At least 45 votes were registered to transgenders in Lahore alone on Wednesday.
The social welfare department said that special counters have been set up in all 36 districts in the province at their district offices, as well as at offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The day was not all joy, as protests erupted after it emerged NADRA would charge Rs1,000 for each ID card. But the protests achieved their objective. After the fees were cancelled, transgenders celebrated and chanted slogans lauding Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Another issue that has cropped up involves the gender and paternity to be stated on the CNICs, which is yet to be resolved. According to NADRA, the cards will bear the father's name of the transgenders, who would prefer their 'guru' to be named instead. The issue is set to be settled by the Supreme Court next month.
The gender column is also a matter of confusion. It seems that, in some parts of Punjab, NADRA will term the gender 'female'. Originally, through, a NADRAspokesman said in a statement that as per the Supreme Court's instructions, third genders could have male transgender, female transgender or Khunsa-e-mushkil written on their ID card, according to their own preference.
In Rawalpindi, at least 21 voters were registered and 25 NICs were issued to members of the transgender community. Many eunuchs refused to obtain a CNICcard, though, as Nadra officials ofNADRA pressed them to enter the name of their actual father instead of their guru.
Almas Bobi, representing a eunuchs' association in Rawalpindi, said they would inform the Supreme Court next month about the non-registration of names of gurus by Nadra officials.
"Many of us had old identity cards where our sex is mentioned male and the name of gurus is mentioned in the column of father," Almas said. "There are many of our friends who do not want to have the name of their father after they were abandoned in childhood by their families and they were brought up by their gurus."
But at the end of the day, optimism reigned supreme as others were looking forward to playing a fuller part in political life. "The CNIC and right to vote will increase our self-confidence and self-respect. We will further ask for employment quotas for eunuchs in different fields," said Miss Sana.
Rawalpindi Commissioner Zahid Saeed said if there were any issues, they would be decided by the Supreme Court, and the registration process would be completed in accordance with new directions from the court.
In Sindh, NADRA's provincial general manager, Brig (r) Zahid Hussain, toldThe Express Tribune that the process of voter registration of transgenders would begin on January 28.
Brig Hussain said that Sindh was the first province to issue the new cards to the eunuchs. "About a month ago, we issued the modified NICs to the eunuchs. In the new cards, the transgender in the gender category have been mentioned as khawaja sirah.
Up north, however, cultural constraints and a lack of understanding about the transgender community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have delayed the registration process for a national identity card.
Nesho, 25, was born as Zeeshan but prefers to be referred to in the feminine pronoun. She has not visited her house in the last 17 years.
"In Pakthun society we are considered a stigma, we cannot go back to our family," she says, adding that she lives with her guru as she has nowhere else to go.
Since the government decided to register the transgender community, Neesha and others of her community belonging to Pakhtun families have not been able to get the IDs of their parents to complete the process for their own registration. "I have brothers and they find me humiliating to their honor," she says with a brave smile.
Farzana, the president of the Shemale Association in Peshawar, says that, with the government reluctant to issue NICswith the name of the guru, there is little hope that the people of her community will be registered. "Whether in legal or social matters, it's the guru that's responsible," she says.
Another problem is the number of Afghans in the transgender community. "The situation in Afghanistan is not comforting to our kind at all; our people are sexually harassed and sometimes even tortured, leaving no other option but to migrate to Pakistan," says Farzana of Afghan eunuchs.
"We have lost our conscience," says Farzana, adding a sombre note to an otherwise celebratory day. "However," she says, "it's our identity that we can be proud of."
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2012.