The brutal murder of a trans woman in Sahiwal should serve as a grisly reminder of how far we have still to go before all citizens of Pakistan enjoy equal rights and protection under the law. The victim was reportedly burnt alive by four men as she resisted sexual assault. This killing comes just a month after a trans woman was killed at a wedding in Peshawar and then hacked into pieces. Needless to say, it is incumbent on the authorities in Sahiwal to investigate the murder and charge those responsible. But it is not enough to only take action after the fact. We as a people need to realise how little protection is afforded to the most vulnerable among us. The problem is not just one of law enforcement and a lack of official action. It is our duty as citizens to create a society where all feel welcome and safe. The reason attacks on transgender persons are so common is because the perpetrators feel they have immunity for their actions. This should not be allowed to stand and we cannot just rely on the government to be the agent of change.
On the legal front there has been some progress in ensuring that transgender persons enjoy the same basic rights as everyone else. The passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act earlier this year belatedly recognised the right of all citizens to self-identify their gender and for all official documents to register their gender. The bill outlawed discrimination against transgender citizens by employers and private business owners and guaranteed their right to inheritance. And, in a welcome move, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has reportedly decided to employ two transgender persons in the Supreme Court.
Still, the battle for recognition continues to be fought. The 2017 census counted only 10.418 transgender citizens even though the true number is believed be closer to half a million. This shows both that many transgender persons are fearful of revealing their gender, and that census officials may have deliberately undercounted the number. Violence against transgender persons shows no signs of abating. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, it is believed that more than 500 transgender persons have been killed since 2015. The police are reluctant to file cases when the victim is transgendered and even when they do they are slow to take action. The murder in Sahiwal will be a test case to show if the state truly believes every Pakistan is equal in the eyes of the law.