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Transgenders fear being ridiculed,harassed at polling stations

By: Zia Ur Rehman

Karachi: Sanam, 27, a transgender community member who is known as Faisal Ali in her family, is a supporter of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf for the last three years. Living in the neighbourhood of Quaidabad, the walls of his room are covered with posters of PTI chief Imran Khan and the party’s electoral symbol, a cricket bat.

Sanam wants to vote for the PTI candidate in her area running in local government polls. But she fears that she might be ridiculed, or worse, attacked, at the polling station. “Women won’t allow me in their queues while men will harass me.”

Realising the community’s concerns and to ensure that its members exercise their right to vote, a transgender community rights body has demanded that the government should take steps to ensure their participation in the polls.

“We understand that the election commission can’t arrange separate queues for members of the transgender community because of their few numbers,” said Bindiya Rana, a leader of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), a group working for the rights of transgender people in the country. “But at least they can exempt us from standing in queues,” she added.

Rana and a handful of others were the first of Pakistan’s transgender community who had participated in the 2013 general elections.

However, none of them are contesting in the upcoming local government polls in the city.

Rana, who was a candidate in PS-114, a constituency comprising Mehmoodabad and Azam Basti neighbourhoods, said they had participated in the general elections just to show that the community was capable of participating in parliamentary politics.

“I wasn’t elected in the poll but our step to run as candidates was the community’s victory.”

She also filed a case in the apex court to have her nomination papers accepted after doubts were raised over her gender. Rana said the decision in her favour had paved the way for future candidates from the community.

Although there are no official statistics available, Rana said there were over 3,000 transgender community voters in different parts of the city, mainly in Gizri, New Karachi, Mehmoodabaad and Quaidabad.

Rana said the transgender population was not large enough to enable its members to run in the local government polls. “There are reserved seats for women, youth, labourers and non-Muslims at the union committee and district level, but none for the transgender community.”

Some members of the community are not enthusiastic about the local government polls.

“A large section of the society don’t accept us as humans and instead of providing us with our basic rights, constantly harasses us,” said Salma, 21, a transgender community member living in Gizri.

“The society’s attitude has compelled us to not participate in social gatherings and activities including elections and limited us to our own community,” she maintained.

Rana Asif Habib, a social activist working closely with the transgender community, seconded the community’s demand for separate arrangements for its members at polling stations. “No one can deny the discrimination and harassment that this community faces in Pakistan. Therefore, its demands are more than legitimate and deserve due attention,” he said

Habib added that there should at least be one reserved seat for the transgender community at the district level so that there could be someone representing them among the decision-makers.

The News