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Alesha should not have died

By: Aisha Sarwari

Extortionists and haters alike harass the transgender community in Pakistan. Mafias try to exploit them sexually, or through panhandling. Not only do they go through life with an identity crisis, they are continuously segregated by mainstream society and find themselves out of jobs and devoid of any advancement opportunities. They are at the bottom of the pecking order of our horrid education system that is busy demonising all sorts of other communities that don’t agree with the Muslim male ethos.

This is why Alesha, a transgender and coordinator of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Trans Action Alliance, ended up dead. It is likely her attackers were part of a gang in Peshawar. Halfway to the other side of the city, she was brought to Lady Reading Hospital bleeding and broken. In a more humane society, this would mean the beginning of the end of her ordeal; in Pakistan this meant the beginning of a new one. The hospital administration, with a rallying mob of admitted patients, could not allow her in either the male or the female ward. They were uneasy, disturbed and even disgusted. There was much ado, Alesha was unattended for hours and was not admitted to the intensive care unit. The problem is that a haemorrhaging wound doesn’t wait for society to figure out what comes first: its transphobia or its humanity. Alesha died amidst attempts to treat her in some corner by putting up some makeshift curtains. She was beautiful and had a lovely smile. Even as she lay dead. Even our living don’t look that good.

The problem is that as a people, we only see beauty when it aligns with our notions of what it should be. In this case, the gender binary is so strong that to shake the male-equals-superior and female-equals-subservient paradigm is next to impossible. Transphobia is rooted in sexism. It is unfathomable for misogynists to digest that a man at birth would want to embrace a female identity and biology. They assume this is deplorable and they also assume that it is a choice. Just like it is okay for girls to wear blue but a disgrace to see a boy in pink, it is a carnal sin to be more feminine at will. Progress can only mean being more male.

If the government thinks that allowing transgenders the right to define themselves as “trans” is the final redemption for their human rights, it cannot be more wrong. Yes, identity is important but it is only useful if it has a cultural subtext to be allowed expression. While one leads to the other, in this age of religious extremism, and impunity when it comes to gender crimes, an ID card where gender is identified as “trans” isn’t worth a penny. Transgenders need acceptance. This is unfortunately deemed akin to an end to male superiority. With a government that looks as if it is involved in a gladiator match in ancient Rome, and only a trickle of a representation of women within it, what can one expect but more crimes like these? K-P seems to be at the centre of these gender crimes. Just a few weeks ago, a girl was drugged in Abbottabad and burned, tied up at the back of a van, in what was essentially an honour crime.

Some day, there will be equality in its truest sense, but currently in K-P and elsewhere, the men with their hyped male bravado are reigning supreme. They rule with a combination of fanfare, gusto and ambivalence and as a result, they are putting forth a gore-fest. There are so many things that one can die for. Being of an undefined gender should not be one of them. The following month will see the pious praying for forgiveness and vowing to be kind to their fellow beings. The injustice that many of them mete out to transgenders will probably not be on the list of acts for which they will be asking for forgiveness.

Rest in peace Alesha. Pakistan has failed you and your people.

Express Tribune