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Transgender flees community due to religious discrimination

By Sehrish Wasif

ISLAMABAD: While the Christian community in the country is busy preparing for Christmas by setting up decorations and purchasing gifts, Mushtaq Aashi in the capital can only look at the long list of presents her nieces and nephews have sent her with a look of longing and desperation.

Aashi’s inability to buy the gifts does not just come from the poverty that surrounds her, rather, it stems from the fact that she is a Christian transgender  person who has had to face discrimination from other people who are transgender forcing her to leave her native Multan.

“I have had to face more discrimination for being a Christian,” she tells The Express Tribune at an office near Aabpara.

“The moment the transgender community in Multan found out that I am a Christian, they started treating me as an ‘untouchable’,” Aashi said, claiming that other transgender persons “stopped eating with me and separated my plates, spoons and glasses while most of them avoided from shaking hands with me.”

Aashi says she was born in Multan in 1975 and was the youngest of six siblings. Her father was a government employee and despite having financial issues wanted her to become a doctor. While her mother left her when she was only three years old, she still managed to complete her FA.

“At the age of 16, my family realised that my behaviour, the way I walk or talk was different from others,” she said, adding that they would often find her in her room dancing. After the death of her father and sister, she lived for a while with her brother’s family caring for their children.

“To make both ends meet, I joined the local transgender community and danced at parties,” she said.

But the discrimination from the community forced her to leave Multan.

Eventually, she made her way to Islamabad. But discrimination followed her with none of the other people who are transgender in the city accepting her. Only Nadeem Kashish, the president of the Shemale Association for Fundamental Rights (Safar) in the capital, embraced her.

Staying with Kashish, Aashi started helping out with the construction of a mosque which the capitals’ transgender community is building in the Bari Imam area.  “The moment other transgender  persons in the area saw me inside the under-construction mosque they raised hue and cry about how could a Christian step inside a mosque and help in its construction,” she cried.

Such was the anger of the community, that they allegedly set fire to her belongings and savings. Like most other members of the transgender community in the capital, she is discriminated when it comes to job opportunities and has to eke out a living by asking for alms at traffic stops in Islamabad.

“They (nephew and niece) think that I have a reputable job in an office situated in one of the high-rises in Islamabad. Sadly, they are unaware of the fact that in our society, people like me are not welcome, and are rather forced in to beggary to make both ends meet,” she said.

Hence, every afternoon she puts on a lot of make-up to conceal her true identity and beg at traffic signals at different locations of the capital.

Haji Nargis Guru, president of the Shemale association of Multan however, refuted allegations of religious or ethnic discrimination within their community.

“We know that all of our members are aware that we are the most deprived section of this society. We cannot afford differences within our community,” she told The Express Tribune.

“We have differences in our community, but these are not based on creed, caste, sect, religion or ethnicity.”

The Express Tribune