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As elections draw closer, (Trans) gender equality is nowhere in sight

By: Rabia Ali

KARACHI: The process of voter verification is in full swing in the city but one group – which had been led to believe that they would be standing in a separate line to put their thumb on ballot – is seething that this may not happen at all.

The transgender people of Karachi are in a limbo as they haven’t been issued new CNICs in which they would be listed as a third gender. In November 2011, the Supreme Court had ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to enlist them as a part of the voters list and had asked the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to expedite the process of issuing news CNICs so that there would be no hiccups.

But according to ECP’s statistics, only 26 of the 3,500 transgender people living in Karachi have new identity cards and are registered voters. This figure does not match the one which Nadra has – it says that it has issued CNICs to 47 transgender people.

“It has been one year and only a handful of us have new CNICs,” said Bindiya Rana, Gender Interactive Alliance’s president, while sitting in a dimly lit room in a house in Gizri. Rana was soon joined by other people from the community. One of them, who go by the name Shabo, angrily whipped out a receipt dated January 28, 2012. “A year has passed and I still haven’t received my new card!”

During the initial days of the registration campaign, the lucky ones who got their cards were those who had applied for the first time. The transgender people who have yet to receive their new CNICs are the ones who possess old identity cards, which list them as males.

Sarah Gill, the youngest amongst them, explained that people of their community don’t want to apply as they don’t want to go through the hassle. “The authorities are not issuing us new cards and we don’t want to lose our old ones.”

They claimed that the authorities have been coming up with ‘absurd’ demands to delay the process of issuing new cards. “At one point, they wanted us to submit a medical certificate. Why should we prove what we are?” asked Gill angrily. “Then the authorities demanded that those transgender people who were listing their gurus as guardians should be at least 18 years younger than them.”

The voting issue

The provincial election commission’s director, Muhammad Najeeb, said that those transgender people who don’t have the new CNIC can vote under their old ones. But he admitted that this may interfere with voter verification.

In any case, most eunuchs are not willing to vote. Kiran who had voted for the PPP in the last elections said the community will boycott elections. “None of the political parties have included us in their manifesto. Why should we vote for anyone?”

When asked about the delay with the new CNICs, Nadra’s spokesperson, Naz Shoeb, diplomatically stated that registration is open to all without discrimination. “We treat everybody equally.”

But for transgender people that day is far away. “We were happy that one day we would beat our chests and tell the world loudly that yes, we are Khawaja Siraahs, but this doesn’t seem to be happening,” said Rana.

The Express Tribune