A month after the state government admitted the existence of trans-genders in J&K, the community that has survived torture and abuse for most of its history tells Irtiza Rafiq and Zeenish Imroz that the welfare measures may mark the beginning of a new struggle
In Srinagar’s Basant Bagh, the door of a modest home’s room has not been opened since the onset of militancy. Seemingly claustrophobic, the 6 x 3 ft room resembles a torture cell. It has the lone inmate, Muhammad Sultan Dar, known locally as Sul Maam, a septuagenarian transgender.
Reduced to a corner where he cooks, it needs a serious effort to get Sul Maam’s attention. “Bea Chusow Goub Bouzaan (I am hard of hearing),” Sul Maam said, almost apologetically to the reporters only after his relative literally got into his room to get him respond to the knocks at his door.
Maam has been living in this dingy room for nearly four decades after his distant relatives sympathetically gave him this space to reside when his parents died and he had no family left. For his livelihood, Maam turned to arranging marriages and singing at weddings. As the turmoil limited his movement, his life became miserable. With his only source of some income over, his hearing was impaired.
“I am unable to talk to you without an assistant,” Maam said, “How could I handle clients?”
Turmoil made him apprehensive about his own survival and he shut the doors on life. “Tehreek Pyath Chus Bea Khotchaan, Chug Gatchaan..”, Maam said, insisting that he is scared of the clashes, crackdowns and the mere thought of somebody getting into his room and hurting him has made him close his door forever.
Talking about the 1990’s, Dr Aijaz Bund, the author of Hijras of Kashmir, the only book on Kashmir’s transgender population, and founder of Sonzal Welfare Trust, said various Hijras were killed by unidentified gunmen.
Unlike the “lucky” Maam who has a room and gets help from his distant relatives and neighbours, Gani Maam’s life was pathetic. A resident of Batamaloo, Gani Mama, died at 75 on a shop front. Abandoned by his family, Gani used to live on the streets of Zainakadal till, in a Chillai Kallan, the harshest phase of winter, night in 2013, he was heard screaming by the neighbours. In the morning, his corpse was found drenched in blood as his body was preyed upon by dogs.
“Their life is full of abuse which is legitimized by the norms of the society we live in,” Dr Bund said. The ridicule starts from the family, goes with them to their school where they are bullied by classmates, teachers and the non-teaching staff due to which they are forced to leave studies making them ineligible for any white collar job. They get into the huge matrimony sector where the face the same abuse. “Seven years back, a school going child belonging to the third gender was raped in the school toilet and when the family complained they were told she should stay back.”
Sexual abuse in transgender people is rampant but such cases never come out in open because of the fear that is induced by the prejudice of our society against them, Bund insists. Maryam (name changed), the 25 years old transgender from downtown, was gang-raped by a group of six drug addicts. While she was passing by a park, the group of drug addicts caught hold of her and raped her anally and orally making her bleed profusely. Maryam has been a victim of multiple rapes but never reported. This has led her to complex PTSD but she refuses to visit a psychiatrist because of the stigma of her identity.
Rape is only one facet to the traumas this community goes through in their lifetime. Starting with abandonment by their families, to getting bullied in schools, on the streets and in buses, mocked at public gatherings, to being outcasted at religious spaces, they suffer on every stage of life.
“The entire trauma that they suffer on various levels gets accumulated and makes them vulnerable to psychiatric problems. However they seldom take medical help because in a conservative society like ours even the ideal stereotype genders are tainted for taking psychiatric help, let alone the third gender people whose identity itself is enough to make them susceptible to disgrace and ridicule,” said Dr Majid Shafi Shah, a Consultant Psychiatrist.
Various psychiatric disorders commonly found in transgender people are depression, anxiety, frequent suicidal tendencies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Its impact reflects in them by way of staring at their mirror reflection all the time or an undue regard for their appearance. This abuse doesn’t even end at their death. When Nadeem, 40, a resident of Islamabad, died last week, apparently due to brain haemorrhage, his family was unwilling to take his body for last rites. When his community members tried to visit his place for condolence, they were denied entry by his nephew saying: “Aeem Mandcheaw Aeis Umri, Weain Cha Yeh Parie (he disgraced us his entire life, only this is left now).”
Muhammad Aslam alias Babloo is around 40. This transgender from Dalgate has been representing the community for last few years. “Every day is a struggle for us,” Babloo said. “Our livelihoods has hit all times low due to the changing times. Our place as entertainers in wedding functions has been replaced by bands.”
Living in rented accommodations after being disowned by their families and rights of inheritance denied, what bothers them the most is the harassment by policemen and self-proclaimed religious persons. “Police are supposed to protect but in our case, they are a crisis,” Babloo said. “When we go with a complaint, they usually say Addeh Wein Kyah Gouv, Tche Hay Laiench Chukh (How does it matter, you are a transgender).”
Narrating an incident of how religious prejudice is being played against them, Babloo said he along with another transgender once attempted cleaned a mosque from cobwebs and dirt. The next day, people refused to offer prayers in the mosque saying it was rendered impure due to their touch. “Why we do not exist for the sermons? We are not seeking any support but at least they can tell the society about us being one of the creations of the God,” Babloo said. “Tragically, we are most harassed after Friday prayers.”
Explaining the phenomenon, Dr Arshid Pandit, a senior genetic scientist, said the main reasons for the existence of the third gender is the clash between the assigned gender and the actual gender inclinations of a person. “When a person is born with ambiguous genitals, we assign a gender based on the propensity and closeness towards either of the two genders,” Pandit said. “In adolescence, if the gene expression is different to that assigned at the birth, the individual tends to adapt his actual gender, leaving his previous assigned one.”
The genetic researchers, however, has been unable to establish the reason that why the transgender people who do not have ambiguous genitalia transcend the journey from one gender to another.
After being the target of abuse and torture at a mass level, the transgender was in news recently after the state government, for the first time in history, admitted their existence and decided to extend certain basic concessions to them as part of their welfare budget. Apart from being considered as part of state’s Below Poverty Level (BPL) population, the government said, it will bear the expenses of their health after they turn 60.
The activists linked to the transgender rights, however, see it as the beginning of a chaotic journey. Right now, the state government, in no records, maintains a gender classification beyond male and female.
“The policy will give some sustenance allowance after 60 years of age but what about all those who are below 60,” asked one transgender. “The government should understand our insecurity and our most basic issue, the shelter. Why cannot there be job reservations and skill development?”
Bund says heterosexual males in the offices, should not be permitted to decide about whatever benefits the state is willing to extend to transgender. “They will send the cases to the medical board for further humiliation