eeli, a transgender victim of violence in Lahore, says she has worked to promote transgender rights — protection, inclusion, identity, equality and respect — for many years. She says her struggle began some 20 years ago when she suffered brutal abuse at a wedding party.
“They were drunk. They harassed our group of dancers and beat us. I was tied to a pole and tortured for not dancing to their favorite tunes,” says Neeli Sunday news. “I then decided to fight for the rights of the community and to raise our voice for our protection and our dignity,” she says. She urges people to be kind to the vulnerable community. She says they frequently face discrimination and violent behavior from various sections of society.
June 26 is marked as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This is an opportunity to call on international institutions, including United Nations Member States, rights groups and the media to raise their voices against any kind of violence, especially to make efforts in case failure to protect individuals against torture. This day is celebrated to remind people that torture is not only wrong, it is also a crime against the dignity of a human being.
The transgender community is a marginalized section of society in Pakistan. They have been discriminated against for decades. Their exclusion and reluctant acceptance in society is one of the main reasons for the violence against them. They are often stigmatized because of their gender.
In recent years, reported cases of violence and torture against the transgender community have increased in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This includes harassment and torture by law enforcement, especially the police. According to reports from various rights groups, nearly 100 people have been killed since 2015. Some of them have been tortured to death. Many others were beaten, harassed, tortured, shot or molested.
Five transgender people were seriously injured earlier this year after a man opened fire on them in Mansehra in the name of honour. Many transgender people have been assaulted over the past two years in Karachi, urban Punjab and various cities in KP. Last year in Peshawar, a shopkeeper killed a transgender friend after she demanded repayment of a loan. Two gunmen attacked Nayab, a transgender rights activist, at her home in Islamabad.
Recently in Karachi. Paras, a transgender person, a dancer by profession, took legal action against the violence of an influential figure in the neighborhood. “Is justice only for the rich and influential in Pakistan? Will someone listen to our marginalized and oppressed community in this society and bring us justice,” she said in a video message.
“Begging in the streets and dancing are the main reasons for harassment and torture by the police,” says Neeli. She says, “The government should tell us what to do when we don’t get education, jobs and respect? We need acceptance, recognition, respect and rights as equal human beings.
Over the years, Pakistan has recognized several rights to this community. A law was passed in 2018 to protect their rights. Pakistan is among 12 countries that issue CSICs and recognize the gender as “other”. Efforts are made to provide them with jobs against quotas, educate them and count them in the census.
Most transgender people in Pakistan are sex workers, dancers, beggars, cooks and beauticians. Increasingly, they are also seen in colleges and universities working as lawyers, journalists etc.
“The transgender community is socially excluded. They need generous support from the state and society. They are disenfranchised and considered weak. This is why they become the target of violence and torture,” says Nadeem Mahbub, a senior government official in the administration group. Mahbub, who is currently on the faculty of the National School of Public Policy, took the initiative a few years ago to open a transgender awareness and education center in Sargodha, where he was then an administrator.
“Police awareness and sensitization is needed to reduce violence against transgender people,” he says. Without it, he says, laws meant to protect the vulnerable go unenforced.
“For the social inclusion of this transgender community and to end the violence against them, we must constantly raise our voices. If we raise concerns and voices for this weak and discriminated community, it is thanks to the awareness and sensitization that we have benefited from. If this continues, it will have a trickle down effect,” adds Mahbub.
On June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) entered into force. In 1997, the General Assembly decided to mark this historic date and designated June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It was first officially observed in 1998. On that day, the UN called on all governments and members of civil society to take action to defeat torture and torturers everywhere. UNCAT has been ratified by 162 countries to date.
“Tortortors must never be allowed to get away with their crimes. The systems that enable torture must be dismantled or transformed,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message today. Torture seeks to annihilate the personality of the victim and denies the inherent dignity of the human being.
The writer is a staff member. He can be contacted at [email protected] He tweets @waqargillani