IT was a pleasant day in 2006, with everything exactly as usual when, at their upmarket house in Hyderabad, Saba Haseen’s parents spoke to her gently. “Your body has a little problem and we need to take you to a doctor,” one of them told the then nine-year-old. When they returned from the clinic that day, Haseen was given her first hormone tablet. Over the next 11 years, she consumed vast quantities of them, in addition to the injections she suffered.
The problem with her body was that it was transgender. Her father, a senior officer in the education department, was aware of this, but wanted to turn it to turn into a male body, through the use of hormones. He referred to her as Roomi Khan and wanted that she be distinctive as a son amongst six daughters, even going so far as to buy her boys’ clothes. Haseen’s mother, though, would in secret dress her like a girl and give her jewellery to wear.
As for Haseen herself — she was confused. And the doses of hormones were not delivering any results. In time, though, facial hair appeared. This made her even more uncomfortable. She had male organs, but identified as neither male nor female. The doctors advised that Haseen undergo surgery to anatomically assign to the female gender. But by now, her father’s frustration had grown to the levels beyond logical reasoning. He would be angry all the time, imposing restrictions on Haseen and barring her from leaving the home.
On Jan 4, 2017, he had gone to office for a meeting. Haseen and her sisters decided to make the event special and celebrate their freedom. They put on fancy clothes and makeup, listening to songs together.
But their father came home earlier than expected. He witnessed Haseen dressed in women’s clothes and was infuriated, staring at her with a face burning with rage. Shortly afterwards, Haseen’s mother packed a suitcase for her and told her to leave home “to save her life”. Left with no option, Haseen searched for human rights organisations and reached a shelter for transgender persons in Islamabad, suffering abuse at every step on the way.
The centre, a three-room house with a decent lawn and Indian-lilac trees, is located in the slum across the shrine of the Sufi saint Hazrat Shah Latif Bari Imam. Set up by the Shemale Association for Fundamental Rights (Safar), it works to liberate transgender persons from the guru-culture and the parents who torture and detain children with transgender signs.
But Kashish, the president of Safar and a transgender herself, convinced Haseen to go back home and try to live with her parents. Haseen agreed, only to hear a final and definite ‘no’ from her family.
“You are not our child,” she was told. “After your birth, you were thrown by somebody in a mosque. We adopted you and tried to give you medical treatment in a bid to make you our son. But now, you cannot be tolerated anymore.”
Today, Haseen has become Hooram, a name given by Kashish to formally include her in the transgender community. But she is still upset. Sitting in the garden or one of the shelter’s rooms with her friends Kashish, Shilpa, Shanaya, Natasha and Nomi in the evenings, she debates the plight of their community every day — the way the government and the people of this country treat transgender persons.
When I meet her, she is upset about the numbers of transgender people shown in the census. She believes that her community is being deceived doubly.
“On the one hand, they are unwilling to accept us as transgender,” she says. “On the other, many males falsely portray themselves as transgender and defame us. These census results are rubbish. The 10,000 transgender persons shown in the census are not really so. They are all either men or women. Some of them have undergone surgeries and others still have their original organs,” she says, adding that to be born transgender is very rare.
Hooram challenges all those 10,000 who claimed to be transgender in the population survey to prove it medically and anatomically. “I am transgendered by birth,” she says angrily. “If all of them are so, they should come and we will all undergo medical tests.”
“The government has no method of counting the transgender population,” points out Kashish, who was named Nadeem at birth. “First of all, the government should devise a strategy to identify a transgender person. All these people who purport to be transgender and beg on the roads are not transgender at all. They are men. Most of them are married and have wives and children.”
“There is hardly one real transgender in a 100,000 population. And If you include all those fakes, posing as transgender in the list, then this number is more than two million people,” says Kashish. “This census has proved a futile exercise for our community. They have failed to count us.”
Hooram’s story, meanwhile, is still unfinished. She was provided education at her home in the hope that she would become a man one day. She has studied up to the intermediate level, but she has no educational certificates in her name. Her father did not register her anywhere, not even on the Form B. She has no identity card. She doesn’t exist anywhere, not even in the census.