The gender paradox

After a Supreme Court order, the provincial governments are supposed to register the "victims of victims"

The history of the third gender in this region is also the history of the anxieties of the two dominant genders. The eunuch, the khawajasera, the heejra, the transvestite, the transgendered human being, and the hermaphrodite are all different labels with which men and women try to contain a threat to an amorphous, but full of desire, human presence.

The oppression of the third gender in this region, like everywhere else, is generally linked with the numerical dominance of the two genders: male and female. But, before the arrival of the British colonisers, the social sphere was more lenient towards their presence because the khawajasera was the ideal employee and guardian of the royal household because he-she did not pose any threat to the royal Mughal "honour".

With the arrival of the British, the situation changed for the worse for the heejras because the new social order was informed by a rigid idea of the white male as an emancipator and civiliser of the "primitive" natives of India. In 1871, when the Criminal Tribes Act was introduced, the eunuchs were also labelled as a criminal tribe.

The Clause 24 of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 reads: "The Local Government should cause the following registers to be made and kept up by such officer… a register of the names and residences of all eunuchs residing in any town or place to which the Local Government specially extends this Part of this Act."

Other than being a problem of governmentality, the eunuchs were also a difficult category of human beings to define. The Act defined them as: "The term 'eunuch' shall, for the purpose of this Act, be deemed to include all persons of the male sex who admit themselves, or on medical inspection clearly appear, to be impotent."

The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 also penalises such mode of being. The clause 26 reads: "Any eunuch so registered who appears dressed or ornamented like a woman, in a public street or place… or who dances or plays music or takes part in any public exhibition… or for hire in a private house may be arrested without a warrant."

Such was the intensity of the moral anxiety of the coloniser at keeping public order that the indefinable human being could have his or her property confiscated.

Now after independence, those whose biological fate or life choices render them as numerically marginalised are the target of governmental redress all over again. A male dominated system of justice distribution has asked the male dominant provincial governments to keep registers of those whose gender is the source of a stigma.

It all happened because an all-male police formation attacked a group of eunuchs dancing at a wedding in Taxila and looted their possessions. Now, after a Supreme Court order, the provincial governments are supposed to register them so that these "victims of victims" can get their Computerised National Identity Cards, Birth Certificates, and other such rights.

Upon hearing this, I approached the first eunuch I saw on the street and asked if he-she was happy with the decision. Gori (a fake name to hide identity) batted her fake eyelashes and just looked at me: "Darling, how happy are you men and women with the way things are in Pakistan? If the government cannot provide you men and women with electricity, what can it give us?"

I was speechless. Every male and female friend I have talked to seems to be an electricity refugee. Some well-off friends moved from Karachi or Islamabad to have more electricity-hours in their nights.

I gathered my courage again and broached the topic: "Have you tried to register?"

"Listen," she said now fed up, "what do you want me to say? Will we get better doctors? Will we get education? If all of you who are so many are able to get something, we also have some hope. What is in this country for any ordinary woman or man or us?"

Again some uncomfortable silence followed.

"Can I talk to your leaders? Do you have a union?"

Yes, we have."

"Give me your number. I will make someone call you and disillusion you further," she let out a sardonic laughter.

After this, I called an employee of NADRA and asked if any new policy had been introduced for the registration of eunuchs. He confirmed there was a new policy but he had not read it and I should call after an hour. I called after an hour. The answer was still the same with new directions for me. Now wait for my call, the officer said. The call never came.

Gori was right. It is not an issue of being recognised in a state document but the overall tendency of a public sphere towards justice. If the males and females are begging, if the bait-ul-maal does not operate, if the taxpayers' money is usurped without any return for them, if all the youth want to migrate as soon as possible, then the state anomie is for everyone and the transgender community may have found more trouble than relief in the mandatory registration process. It may even become 1871 all over again because there are no laws against data protection. The police may have access to all the details and can round them up for use in any unsolved crimes.

If the case of Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq is any indication, the logic of the existing order of things is going to remain implacable. Shumail Raj was a transgendered man who married Shahzina Tariq, his cousin. Shumail was born a female but had gone through the biological transition of becoming male. The Court ordered a medical examination which, according to an IGLHRC document submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, revealed that "Shumail had undergone gender re-assignment surgery, but the judge nevertheless pronounced Shumail 'a girl' and accused the couple of perjury for lying about Shumail's gender."

It seems the law in Pakistan has no provisions in place for recognising the natural rights of transgendered people. Here, some of the eunuchs are transgendered and others are gender-confused at birth. So, it is going to be a big bureaucratic mess when the state functionaries come knocking.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated July 12, 2009