April 20, 2005 – United National International Regional Information Network
Hijra community seeks HIV awareness
Lahore – For members of Pakistan’s eunuch-transvestite, or Hijra community, open discussion about HIV/AIDS prevention remains a closed book. Cultural descendents of the court of eunuchs of the Mughal Empire (1526-1858), most Hijra today earn their living as prostitutes, beggars or dancers. ” Our customers aren’t interested in such things. They’re interested in sex!” Sheila, a 30-something Hijra working the back streets of Lahore’s red light Hira Mundi district, told IRIN laughingly.
Sheila’s friends nodded in agreement. “We have to satisfy our customers. Wearing a condom is simply not part of the deal,” another Hijra giggled, shaking her hair for attention.
But for health experts in the South Asian nation, such candor is concerning, with reportedly just 25 percent of men who buy sex from Hijras actually using a condom. Moreover, with the number of reported cases of HIV/AIDS through sexual transmission increasing, it is clear more work is needed in raising levels of awareness among this group, which reportedly numbers tens of thousands throughout the subcontinent.
However, open discussion about sexuality and HIV, not to mention the Hijra community itself, remains largely taboo in conservative Pakistan. Officially, there are close to 2,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. However, given the nature of the subject, few infected people disclose their status. Some experts estimate the true number of HIV-positive people to be closer to 80,000. In Islamic Pakistan, the Hijra community is looked down upon and remains socially ostracised. Often mocked or ridiculed, their plight is not easily understood, marginalising the group further in terms of HIV awareness.
Moreover, access to health services is poor, despite high-risk behaviour with regard to prostitution. One NGO working to address that is the Lahore-based AIDS Prevention Association of Pakistan (APAP). Established in 1996, the group has spearheaded efforts on preventive health, HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) awareness and reproductive health among the group in and around the city.The Hijra remains one of Pakistan’s most marginalised groups.
“No one speaks openly about the Hijra. Talking about HIV/AIDS with regard to this group simply does not take place,” Dr Muhammad Hanif, APAP’s general secretary, told IRIN candidly. Working with a team of volunteer educators, many of them members of the Hijra community itself, Hanif hopes to change that. Through local media and an extensive outreach programme, APAP provides literature about HIV/AIDS, STDs and condom usage both to prostitutes and their clients, as well as the benefits of safe sex. ” Most people do not know the risks they are taking. They believe wearing a condom will inhibit their pleasure,” Gori Shermi, a peer counsellor and Hijra herself, told IRIN. “I tell them what the truth is.”
But getting the message out hasn’t been easy. While APAP had succeeded in making inroads where other NGOs dared not venture, financial constraints on the self-funding group have hampered further expansion. In addition to extending its condom distribution effort, APAP would like to establish a resource centre in Lahore, as well as extend its Hijra peer counselling capacity.
” This all requires money,” Hanif said. “Frankly, something we do not have a great deal of at the moment.”
Focus on gay rights in Pakistan extremely difficult
Lahore – Sitting on a bench in the shade of the cool palms of Lahore’s Lawrence Gardens, Tariq thought carefully over what to say next. For years he had kept his sexuality a secret, knowing all too well the risk of revealing himself as gay. ” My life is a lie and I know it,” the 24-year-old fine arts student told IRIN. “But this is the reality of Pakistan and this is the reality I have to live.”
For thousands of gay people in Pakistan today, that reality is repeated again and again. The idea of ‘coming out’ has never been an option for him, Tariq stressed. Like most people interviewed by IRIN, he declined to use his real name. Part of the ‘lie’ is living up to family and societal norms, with Tariq himself conceding he has recently agreed to a marriage arranged by his family.
Living With Denial
With denial as their constant companion, gay Pakistanis live in constant fear of being ‘outed’ in this staunchly conservative society which is largely ignorant and intolerant of sexual minorities. The vast majority of gay people just do what is expected of them and remain quietly in the shadows, a way of life common throughout this South Asian nation of 140 million. To act in any way effeminately is a sign of weakness and a blemish on one’s own masculinity in this most ‘macho’ of societies. To be gay is to be deviant, an aberration against God’s will which gay men in Pakistan go to great lengths to disguise.
Gay men living in the larger cities such as Lahore, Karachi or the capital, Islamabad, fare slightly better in the mildly more tolerant atmosphere of urban areas. Here they enjoy higher levels of education and many hold well paid professional jobs. Those living in impoverished rural areas remain closeted together fearing the extreme conservatism of their villages.
” I live in two worlds,” Umjad, a 28-year-year old marketing executive for a major multi-national, told IRIN at a friend’s upscale apartment in Karachi’s Clifton Beach area. “Sometimes I feel like a Hollywood actor. I’m always trying to balance both lives.” In an effort to do just that, each week Umjad and his friends gather informally at a friend’s house in what undoubtedly is their only chance to be themselves.
” Sure it’s difficult. You can’t be openly gay if you want to be accepted or if you want to have a good job,” Itfan, Umjad’s 42-year-old friend remarked candidly, his friends nodding with approval. “But there is a greater sense of solidarity amongst gay people in Pakistan now than ever before.” Though low by Western standards, part of this solidarity came with the evolution of the internet which revolutionised opportunities for gay Pakistanis to meet each other and discuss issues impacting them. ” I used to feel so alone. Now I know there are lots of people like me,” Zubair, a slender 24-year-old added. ” It changed my life,” another quipped.
Homosexuality And Islam
Yet for most gay people in Pakistan, having to wrestle with one’s own sexuality and being constantly concerned about being discovered, life remains a constant battle. Can you be true to yourself, while adhering to the strict Islamic morals the country prides itself on?
” The issue of ‘homosexuality’ is sensitive and is not publicly discussed but there is, at the same time, a level of acceptance amongst men,” Hina Jilani, a leading human rights activist and lawyer, told IRIN in Lahore. That tacit acceptance can be best seen in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where ethnic Pashtun men are well known for taking young boys as lovers, a practice now deeply embedded in the local culture and an obvious consequence of the strict segregation of women there.
But according to a Boston Globe report published in July 2004 entitled “Open Secret”, homosexuals in Pakistan walk a fine line between harsh legal and cultural prohibition and a form of unspoken social acceptance. ” Islamic tradition frowns on but acknowledges male-male sex and this plays a role in permitting clandestine sex so long as it is not allowed to interfere with family life, which is of paramount importance,”
San Francisco-based sociologist Stephen Murray was quoted as saying in his 1997 collection of scholarly essays entitled “Sociological Control of Homosexuality: A Multi-Nation Comparison”. Cultural and religious tradition keeps such relationships largely hidden in Pakistan, he wrote, adding there is no gay life in the Western sense of the word, and any sexual relationships between men have to be concealed and managed behind the context of marriage to a woman.
Further complicating the matter, Murray noted that the most common form of male homosexuality in Pakistan was pederasty, whereby an older man entices or coerces a younger male into sex, sometimes using physical force. Such incidents serve only to blur the issues of homosexuality and exploitation, the Boston Globe report said, making it even more difficult for gays to be open about their sexuality and assert their need for rights. This drives them further underground. ” Many organisations who have tried to work on the rights of gay people have really used HIV/AIDS programmes to approach the subject and cannot [do so] openly,” Jilani maintained.
In The Shadows
One local NGO responding to a request for an interview by IRIN underscored the concern people working to tackle the subject face.
” This is a critical issue in our society. We have to be careful for that. Please let us know how many persons will be with you,” asked the NGO employee warily, inquiring whether any journalists or anyone from the authorities would be present at the proposed meeting. “Human rights activists like us struggle for the rights of people including gays and other youngsters. If you want to find a person who is campaigning openly for gay rights only, the answer is NO,” he said adamantly, going on to describe homosexuality as a harshly punishable sin and a crime. ” Some religious persons may kill the person who talks about gay rights,” he warned.
A Voice Abroad
Even so, while activists on the ground may prefer to keep a low profile on the issue, those abroad are more vocal.
” The lack of proper democracy and the lack of respect for internationally set standards of human rights makes the lives of LGBT [lesbian gay bisexual and transgender] people in Pakistan more difficult,” Kursad Kahramananoglu, who heads up the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), the oldest and only membership-based LGBT organisation in the world, told IRIN from London.
ILGA often receive requests from LGBT people in Pakistan for help in receiving political asylum in western countries, he said, noting that because of a lack of resources they are unable to deal with individual cases. ” However, I can tell you one of the active members of the ILGA organisation now lives in London because it was not possible to live as an open gay man in Pakistan,” Kahramananoglu said. With regard to members in Pakistan, he replied: “We cannot for reasons you can appreciate give their contact details,” explaining it was precisely this issue of confidentiality which has been used against the ILGA at the United Nations in the past.
The government in Islamabad has never hidden its intolerance towards the issue of gay rights. In April 2003, a UN vote on homosexual human rights was derailed at the last minute by an alliance of disapproving Muslim countries, including Pakistan, which introduced amendments designed to kill the measure. The amendments removed all references to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, rendering the resolution meaningless, a 25 April 2003 Guardian report said. The resolution, was sponsored by Brazil with support from 19 of the 53 member countries of the UN Human Rights Commission. It called on member states to promote and protect the human rights “of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation”.
” Pakistan, which prides itself on being the land of civilised, educated, humane people, cannot do anything else but see the truth. At present they are in denial,” Kahramananoglu charged. “They say homosexuality does not exist in Pakistan and that if it does it must be the corrupt effect of these degenerate Western infidels! And yet they admire and work hard to achieve most other things from the West. What will the Pakistani government do if and when the Netherlands or Canada appoints a legally married gay Ambassador to Pakistan with his lovely partner? Cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands or Canada?” the ILGA official asked.
Such questions might best be put to the country’s lawmakers, with Pakistan reportedly being one of the few countries in the world where homosexuality is punishable by death. According to ILGA, Pakistan is one of only eight countries today still retaining capital punishment for homosexuality. Others include Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, the Chechen Republic, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The situation with regard to the United Arab Emirates is unclear.
According to Jilani, while homosexuality is an offence under Pakistan’s Penal Code (PCC), the law does not specifically refer to homosexuality.
” In the Pakistan Penal Code the provision defining the offence and prescribing the punishment for it is titled “unnatural offences”, she said, noting that while there were several convictions under this statute each year, it is not possible to give precise statistics. Under section 377 of the PCC, whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which [shall not be less than two years nor more than] 10 years, and shall also be liable to a fine, she explained.
Yet such ambiguity in the law makes the challenge of changing society’s perception of homosexuality all the more difficult. For there to be any hope of progress for the gay community, it will be necessary for the attitudes of ordinary people to change. Meanwhile, for men like Tariq, whose hope for progress remains minimal, the precarious balancing act of living two lives continues. ” People here are not ready to talk about homosexuality so they are certainly not ready to talk about gay rights,” he said in a matter of fact manner. “They tell me it’s a sin to be gay. But the real sin is not being allowed to be who I am.”
June 2, 2005 – BBC NEWS
Gay Pakistan–‘less inhibited’ than the West? (followed by readers’ reactions)
Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. But there are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open in their behaviour. In this column a gay man in Pakistan talks about the advantages of being gay there compared to the West. He prefers to remain anonymous.
It is all too common to hear examples of the repression of sexuality and oppression of sexual minorities in South Asia. But the problem with sweeping generalisations about sexuality, or anything else for that matter, is the exceptions. I am one such exception – a gay man who grew up in Pakistan, became aware of his sexuality while studying in the US, had most of his early experiences of love and sex there, and yet decided to come back home to Pakistan. It will surprise many when I say that I actually feel more comfortable about myself while living here than I was in the West.
It was not always so of course. Before my return, I felt quite aggrieved when my straight brother downplayed my apprehensions about being gay in Pakistan. I cannot remember a single occasion in almost 10 years that I have felt threatened with regards to my sexuality in Pakistan. It really was not a problem, he suggested. How insensitive and naive of him, I thought. My brother has won the point since though. While I maintain discretion in many respects, I have come out to most of my family, with their loving support.
I have also come out to all my friends, and rarely meet anyone aggressively hostile to gay individuals. I have lived with a lover independently without anyone raising an eyebrow. I have attended gay parties more uninhibited than any I have seen in the West. An entirely unrepresentative experience to be sure, as far as the experience of a majority of Pakistanis is concerned. But there is no representative sample that I can think of. Sexuality itself is so much more differently configured in Pakistan than in the West – which is where the language of the sexuality debate comes from. This is especially true in terms of people’s perceptions of their identity and behaviour, in terms of class, with regards to family and religious obligations.
I would not for a moment suggest that it is easy being gay in Pakistan. Homosexual acts are illegal, and conservative religious and cultural attitudes mean many gay people are afraid to openly acknowledge their sexuality. They face ostracism by their families if they do. But in a sense the American military’s approach of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is applied throughout this society.
True, there is a fine line between discretion and suffocating silence. But being straight is not that much easier, and is in fact sometimes more difficult when it comes to physical relationships. What is perhaps closer to the truth is that overt expression of sexuality itself – both gay and straight – is a taboo matter in Pakistani society. But whereas heterosexual courting and coupling is all too obvious, gay socialising can take place without attracting as much attention – with brazen abandon in a society where many forms of overt physical and emotional intimacy between members of the same gender are tolerated and even admired. The opposite holds true for such public expression between members of the opposite sex.
Just as everywhere else, however, things are changing, driven by the exposure to information via technology.
The internet, satellite television and films all combine to give a new generation of gay men and women context to their emotions, a sense of identity, an outlet for expression and perhaps most importantly, the ability to communicate with each other. No wonder, then, that I met my boyfriend on the Internet. (End of story)
Readers comments about this story:
=Who are we to judge? And when did sexual orientation became one of the five pillars of Islam?
Kashif Iqbal, Norway
=After spending a couple of years in the USA (an open society), I believe that homosexuality can never be defended. The Lord has made men for women and women for men.
=I dare him to come out in public and announce himself as gay. He is accepted in his social class because the elite don’t mingle with the commoners.
Waqas Khan, USA
=I think this guy is kidding himself. I don’t believe many people in Pakistan are comfortable knowing a gay person. Any normal family would have disowned him immediately. I was born and brought up in the UK and there are thousands of Pakistanis where I stay. Without a doubt I am certain nobody would accept a gay person into Pakistani society here so how can it ever be acceptable in a conservative Muslim nation such as Pakistan? Also as homosexuality is forbidden in Islam how can this guy still call himself a Muslim?
=To say that gay socialising is easier in Pakistan because physical intimacy between men is not questioned the way it is in the West, is living in a fool’s paradise. If this person seriously believes that close contact among men equals acceptance of homosexuals then he is fooling himself. And he knows this, because if he felt homosexuality is acceptable, he would come out with it to more people, not just to his “liberal” friends and family. Acceptability of homosexuals may be on the rise, but it is because people feel socially pressured to do so, just like some people in the West are pressured to be tolerant towards minorities.
=There is no problem in being gay as far as I am concerned but there is some thing wrong in a Muslim being gay. It is not allowed in Islam and is surely against the laws of nature; it is one of the signs of the end of the world. I don’t think you remain a Muslim if you indulge in anything like that. As much as you have right to choose, I would never appreciate anything like this.
=People keep saying that homosexuality is a sin or not allowed in Islam. But can someone post the actual passages where it explicitly forbids it? Manz thinks it is a sign of the end of the world. However homosexuality has been going on since time began. I am gay and I am a Muslim. Why can’t I be both? I would never choose to be this way, why would anyone? I have stopped asking Allah why he made me this way, because I have accepted that I am his creation, and not the spawn of the devil! It would be nice if other Pakistanis also realised that fact, instead of hiding their intolerance, fear, hatred, and general nastiness behind the mask of religion. My friend, who like me was born in the UK but of Pakistani heritage, had a mixed experience of coming out to his family, it was his family in the countryside in Pakistan that were fine with it, though never talk about it. But the self-righteous middle class family in the city, along with the family here weren’t too keen to say the least.
=It’s surprising to hear of family and friends to be accepting of this person’s sexual preference. Homosexuality is a sin in all the three major faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). It’s no secret that Pakistan has its share of gays and lesbians but any act to look for acceptance will be disastrous, since Quranic Laws cannot be changed for a few people.
KM Sheikh, USA
=I could go on and say that homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, but that would probably kill this dialogue. I do not support or condone homosexuality, but at the same time I feel that God is going to be the final judge. I think this guy’s experiences are a lot different from what an average Pakistani’s experiences would be. The average Pakistani is the one living in a village, working day and night, maybe even half-educated. Not someone whose family is open and welcoming enough to accept their son coming out as gay. Sounds more like a privileged family with a lot of money to send their sons to the US for studies. Maybe religion does not have any place in their hearts or homes, and that’s why he’s feeling accepted. It’s his social circle specifically, not the country.
=In conservative Islamic societies, where a large number of women observe “Pardha” (or veil in front of males who are not immediate family), homosexuality is historically prevalent; but it is never flaunted, as we see in western societies. Late Molly Kaye’s (MM Kaye) novel Far Pavilions quotes an Afghan song:
There is a boy, across the river
With his bottom like a peach
But alas, I can’t swim.
Suren Sukhtankar, USA
=I am straight but not narrow. I agree mostly that the West is obsessed with people’s sexuality while most people in the East, sex is private, very private. It is not anybody’s business. I remember when I was in school in US, in the land of the free, what I wore, how I spoke, where I touched others and when but then I was immediately scrutinised by people around me seeking to know my sexuality. Who the heck cared, I thought. In that sense, the land of the free and individual rights, has very little of it in the West.
=More power to him. Gay people are born like that, no-one chooses to be gay or become gay. I believe that gay people need our support. It was nice to read that in Pakistan gay people can live a good life too.
Farva Khan, Islamabad, Pakistan
=This guy is living in a fantasy world. Being gay in Pakistan… wow, he had the courage to tell his family and somehow they supported him (I am not sure if the are followers of any religion or not, but it’s forbidden in Islam, just as it is in Christianity, just as it is in Judaism). I am sure he is the subject of jokes to all that know about his sexual orientation, this not being my personal view but a lifelong experience of living in Pakistan. Homosexuality is a taboo in Pakistan; it’s looked down upon to the extent to docile boycott of the gay person. Nothing is changing in Pakistan in this regard; do not take this article as a guideline for the Pakistani’s society’s take on homosexuality. This person, and the editor for that matter, has serious lack of information in this regard. Pakistan is not a small country and most of the population is conservative. I really cannot think of any city in Pakistan (other than a few corners of the liberal Islamabad) where this guy can announce his homosexuality.
=Men loving particularly younger men is pretty common in most part of Pakistan. Maybe it is due to Muslim belief that God has promised to those who will earn to go to heaven will have not only “Hoors” (virgin women) but a choice for what it is called “Ghilmans” (young beautiful boys).
Alex Ijaz, USA
=An important factor that our gay friend forgot to highlight was his social class. Similar to the western world, it is becoming quite fashionable for the eastern elite to display an open acceptance and patronage for the gay. And, the reason why the author finds “gay socialising” easier in Pakistan is because half the time people don’t know its happening. It gets camouflaged between the Punjabi hugs that you see men giving on road sides and the happy-go-lucky hand-in-hand swinging of two best friends. Ignorance is not acceptance. And ours is an extremely intolerant society. Yet, I must add, every human being has a right to life and freedom of living. Let’s leave moral judgements to Divinity!
June 22, 2004 – From BBC
Pakistani Sex Workers Visit India to Discuss Safe Sex Practices and Combating AIDS
A group of Pakistani sex workers have visited the red light district in the Indian city of Calcutta to discuss safe sex practices and combating Aids.
It is the first ever visit by Pakistani sex workers to any red light district in India. The BBC’s Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta says over the last decade, sex workers there have formed a powerful organisation to protect their rights. The have successfully improved their health standards. They have also organised campaigns to raise awareness on preventing HIV/Aids.
The group of sex workers from the Pakistani city of Hyderabad visited Sonagachi – a sprawling red light district in north Calcutta. “They have come to the right place because we are the most organised group of sex workers anywhere in Asia,” Swapna Gayen, who heads the Calcutta sex workers’ association, told the BBC.
They were briefed by local sex workers on how they have managed to combat sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. “It was unbelievable to the delegation that Sonagachi’s sex workers refuse sex without a condom even in the face of physical torture,” Majid Rani, who led the Pakistani team, is quoted as saying by AFP. She said this was unthinkable in Pakistan and sex workers there would often be forced to have sex without condoms.
The visiting Pakistani women also visited a creche for the children of sex workers and a consumer cooperative. But Ms Gayen said they were particularly interested in brothel management and anti-Aids programmes. Pakistan has 2,300 HIV-positive people, according to official figures. But the World Health Organisation estimates that the figure could be closer to 80,000.
June 28, 2005 – Associated Press
Pakistan Supreme Court overturns acquittal of men
Mukhtar Mai came forward to say she wants her attackers punished.
Islamabad — Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned the acquittals of 13 men accused of gang-raping a villager and ordered the suspects arrested Tuesday in a case that has drawn international attention to the brutal treatment of women in this conservative Muslim country.
by Anjum Naveed, AP
The ruling came a day after the 36-year-old victim, Mukhtar Mai, made a dramatic appearance at the Supreme Court, appealing a lower court decision to acquit five of the men who allegedly raped her on orders of a council of village elders. The eight members of the council, an influential force in rural Pakistan, were acquitted three years ago.
Outside the courtroom, dozens of women hugged and congratulated a relaxed and smiling Mai, who was wearing the traditional Shalwar kameez — trousers and a shirt — with a blue-and-green shawl covering her head. ” I am happy and I hope those who humiliated me will be punished,” Mai said. “I was expecting justice from the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has done justice.”
The court said it would hold another hearing later to decide on possible punishments — including the death sentence — for those accused. Mai was raped in 2002 allegedly as punishment for her 13-year-old brother’s illicit affair with a woman from a higher-caste family. Mai and her family deny the affair took place, saying the brother was in fact assaulted by members of the other family. By confronting her attackers, Mai has defied tradition in a country where rape victims often suffer in silence for fear they will be shunned by their families if they come forward.
Several courts — local, federal and religious — have issued conflicting rulings in the case this year in a legal pingpong match that often has seemed capricious and confused, further embarrassing authorities. Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the head of a three-judge panel that heard the appeal, issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the suspects. It was not known how many of them were in custody Tuesday evening.
Mai’s counsel praised the court ruling. ” This is a good decision,” Aitzaz Ahsan said, adding that he was not expecting a new trial for the men. He told The Associated Press the Supreme Court would make a decision “on reappraisal” of the evidence.
In the years since the assault, Mai has become a prominent activist for women’s rights and has helped set up a school in her impoverished farming village, mainly with donations from her supporters.
But her attempts to take the plight of women in rural Pakistan to a wider audience were muzzled by the government, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. Mai had been invited by a U.S.-based human rights group to talk about her experiences but was stopped from leaving Pakistan and her passport was confiscated. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, while on a trip to New Zealand, said he ordered the travel ban to prevent Mai from bad-mouthing Pakistan.
The move was strongly criticized by the United States and human rights groups. On Monday, Mai received her passport back. It was unclear Tuesday whether she intended to continue with her trip to the United States. A trial court in 2002 sentenced six men to death and acquitted eight others in Mai’s rape. In March of this year, the High Court in Punjab province, where Mai’s village of Meerwala is located, acquitted five of the men and reduced the death sentence of the sixth to life in prison. Meerwala is about 350 miles southwest of Islamabad.
October 5, 2005 – BBC
First gay ‘marriage’ in Pakistan
A gay couple have become the first to get “married” in Pakistan, according to reports from the region. Witnesses said a 42-year-old Afghan refugee held a marriage ceremony with a local tribesman of 16 in the remote Khyber region bordering Afghanistan. Gay marriage is not legal in conservative Muslim Pakistan. On hearing of the wedding, a tribal council told the pair to leave the area or be killed for breaking religious and tribal “values and ethics”.
‘Pomp and show’
A local Urdu-language newspaper said the elder man, named as Liaquat Ali, had taken a local boy called Markeen as “his male bride”. The paper said the boy’s impoverished parents accepted 40,000 rupees (£380) for their son’s hand in marriage. “The marriage was held amid usual pomp and show associated with a tribal wedding,” it said. Malik Waris Khan, a prominent local politician and former federal minister, confirmed to AFP that the marriage had taken place. “I checked the report with people in Tirah Valley and they confirmed it,” he said.
Although it remains a taboo subject, homosexuality is relatively common in Pakistan, says the BBC’s correspondent Aamer Ahmed Khan in Islamabad. Increasingly, gay couples are living together in some of the big cities such as Karachi and Islamabad, but gay marriages remain unheard of, he says. Pakistani law punishes sodomy with imprisonment ranging from two years to life. Some Islamic provisions prescribe 100 lashes for the act or even death by stoning. A gay couple caught having sex were lashed publicly in the Khyber region in May.
October 5, 2005 – 365Gay.com
Death Threats Follow Pakistan’s First Gay Wedding
Lahore – A gay couple has been told to leave Pakistani or be killed after the two men exchanged vows in a traditional ceremony in a remote village. The Times of India reports that the threats came from village elders in the conservative Islamic region near the famed Khyber Pass. The paper says that a 42-year-old Afghan refugee fell in love with a 16 year old villager and offered his family a “dowry” of 40,000 rupees – about $650. The family readily accepted. Arranged marriages of 16 year olds is not uncommon in Pakistan, but this is the first known instance where another male was involved.
The marriage was held amid usual pomp and show associated with a tribal wedding, the Times reported. “When I came to know that it was a gay marriage I left the party without taking food,” tribal elder Millat Khan told the paper. A tribal assembly, or jirga, in the remote area told the newlyweds on Wednesday to leave the area immediately or face death for “breaking all the religious and tribal values and ethics”, according to Khan. Sodomy is punishable by death in Pakistan.
Pakistani society looks other way as gay men party–Homosexuality ‘thriving’ despite strict criminal code
Marriage and cultural factors offer camouflage
by Declan Walsh in Lahore
A ban on kite-flying failed to dampen the spirits of party-goers in Lahore at the weekend, where hundreds of parties took place to celebrate the age-old Basant festival. But one gathering stood out. Under a starry sky filled with fireworks, about 150 gay men clambered to the roof of an apartment building for an exuberant party. Bollywood music spilled into the streets as dress-wearing men twisted and whirled flamboyantly. Some older men with moustaches and wearing traditional shalwar kameez stared silently from the sidelines. But most of the party-goers were in their 20s, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and looking for a good time. “We just want to have fun,” said one of the organisers, known as the “hot boyz”.
Homosexuality is taboo in Pakistani society, where sexual orientation is rarely discussed and the gay rights debate is non-existent. Sodomy is punishable by up to life in jail, and religious leaders condemn gay men as an aberration of western corruption. When President Pervez Musharraf boasted of empowering minorities, during a press conference with George Bush in Islamabad 10 days ago, he was unlikely to have been referring to gay emancipation. Yet many homosexuals say their community is quietly thriving, often with the tacit acceptance of a society which prefers to look the other way. Assaults on gay men are rare; sodomy laws are seldom invoked.
Communities of Hijra – a transsexual group, with roots which stretch back to the Mughal empire – are found in all major cities. “In a bizarre way homosexuality is condemned but not opposed,” said a gay man from Karachi. “There is an indulgence here, a cultural ability to live and let live.” Such matters gain little political capital. When Urdu-language newspapers accused a former chief minister of Sindh province of being a cross-dresser two years ago, the storm quickly blew over and the politician kept his job.
The apparent open-mindedness is at odds with Pakistan’s austere and socially conservative image abroad. Last year Punjabi authorities briefly banned female participants in marathon races, while sex outside marriage between men and women is punishable by death. Cultural factors offer one explanation – gay men can easily camouflage their relationships because public displays of affection between men, such as holding hands, are widely accepted. “Western gays are gobsmacked <confused> about how easy it is to pick up guys here, how often they are approached,” one gay man said.
Nevertheless, homosexuality, like anything related to sex, is practised with great discretion. Internet chat rooms provide a safe and anonymous forum for middle- and upper-class gay men. Cohabiting couples are rare, and most gay men still marry to avoid scandalising their families. An Afghan refugee sparked controversy in the Khyber tribal agency last September when he was “married” to a 16-year-old boy. A tribal council ordered the pair to leave, or be stoned for breaking religious and tribal values.
And many Pakistanis ignore their existence, seeing homosexuality as an abhorrent, western practice. “It is not allowed in Islam and is surely against the laws of nature; it is one of the signs of the end of the world,” a contributor to a BBC Online debate recently wrote. Unlike vocal gay rights activists in western countries, many Pakistani gay men feel that the lack of debate suits them. “If we were being actively persecuted, then we might fight in public,” said a gay man in Islamabad. “But you don’t want to pick a fight you can’t win.”
11 October 2006 – From: Katrina Fox
Press release: Call for submission for Pakistani transsexual anthology
Call for submissions for new anthology
Submissions are being sought for an anthology of real-life stories by transsexual (transsexed) people (MTF and FTM) and their experience of being in love. Please note this is not an erotica or sex book, it is about finding and being in love with a significant other (although contributors’ experiences of their sex life are welcomed, as much as they are comfortable with).
We are seeking stories of 5000 words and written in the first person. The relationship described can be short or long term, and the partner in question can be current or past (for example if they are now deceased). We would also like to include a photo of each contributor and their partner, if possible (not essential, and if it’s not possible it won’t prohibit your story from being considered or included and pseudonyms may be used to protect contributors’ identities where necessary). All sexualities are encouraged and welcomed – straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual etc, as well as trans-trans relationships of any sexuality. The point of the book is to show that good, loving relationships are possible for transsexual people of all sexualities and for them to tell their experiences in their own words, including the highs and lows.
We are seeking submissions from across the globe – Asia, India , Africa, as well as the US , Europe and Australia .??The editors recognise and acknowledge the huge range of sex and gender diverse people; however, the scope of this particular book is aimed at those who identify as transsexual or transsexed – however a particular individual defines those terms. The book has been commissioned by the Haworth Press in the USA , a well-known publisher of GLBTIQ titles, and will be published late 2007/early 2008.
Deadline for submissions is 31 January 2007. Payment is $100 USD plus one copy of the book.
About the editors:
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH is a clinical hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, counsellor, couples and family therapist, originally from London and now based in Sydney , Australia . A transsexual woman herself she is well known in the field of sex and gender diversity, having published many papers on the subject as well as being the co-author of Trans-X-U-All: The Naked Difference (1997), the author of Sex, Gender & Sexuality: 21st Century Transformations, and the co-editor of Finding the Real Me: True Tales of Sex & Gender Diversity (2003). www.tracieokeefe.com
Katrina Fox is an internationally known freelance journalist, also from London and now living in Sydney with her partner Tracie O’Keefe. She writes for Australia ’s national lesbian magazine LOTL, as well as features and a regular weekly column, Keeping Abreast, for SX, Sydney ’s largest GLBTIQ arts, news and entertainment magazine. Her articles have also appeared in Diva, the UK ’s national lesbian magazine. She is the co-author and editor with Tracie O’Keefe of the above-mentioned titles. www.katrinafox.com
For more information and detailed guidelines for submissions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please pass this call out to relevant friends or colleagues who may be interested in contributing, as well as relevant networks, message boards, chat rooms and groups
April 9, 2007 – BBC News
Pakistan battles HIV/Aids taboo
by Ashfaq Yusufzai
Nearly 4,000 people with HIV/Aids have reported at treatment centres around Pakistan, government and World Health Organisation (WHO) officials say. The figure is a fraction of the total number of Pakistanis with the virus. A UNAids report last year said that between 80,000 and 140,000 people were infected – and the rate could spiral because of under-reporting of cases. The WHO has been funding a three-year, $4.5m anti-retroviral programme in Pakistan since late 2005.
The drugs for the programme are imported from India, and a number of doctors and nurses have been trained for the purpose in India and Italy. Unfortunately, prevention programmes take time to produce results and high risk sexual behaviour is not easily changed Quaid Saeed, World Health Organisation An HIV-Aids newsletter of the Ministry of Health put the total number of reported cases at 3,933, but only about 618 of them were registered with nine treatment centres countrywide. Pakistani officials say a low detection rate and stigma associated with the disease were hampering the treatment of HIV/Aids patients.
The problem is further compounded by a lack of awareness about the infection.
“People think it is exclusively caused by adultery, and are therefore reluctant to approach health services,” says Quaid Saeed, WHO’s national medical officer for HIV/Aids in Pakistan. A joint study conducted recently by UNAids and the Aga Khan Univeristy in Karachi reported that 80% of known cases in Pakistan involved people who had been deported from the Gulf states for having Aids. Lack of detection “may cause an Aids epidemic in Pakistan, especially among high-risk population sub-groups such as injecting drug users, sex workers and unsuspecting spouses,” says Mr Saeed.
The WHO is trying to implement a plan under which prevention and treatment programmes would go hand in hand. The treatment centres offer not only treatment, but also counselling sessions for patients and relatives. “Unfortunately, prevention programmes take time to produce results and high risk sexual behaviour is not easily changed into safer practices,” Mr Saeed says. But of late there has been evidence that some sufferers are breaking their silence. “An increasing number of patients are approaching us because they know they can receive specialist treatment which can prolong their lives,” says Dr Yasin Malik, who is in charge of an anti-retroviral treatment centre in the north-western city of Peshawar.
Aids was detected in Pakistan in 1987 and has been spreading since. The scale of the country’s problem is dwarfed, however, by that in neighbouring India, which has more people living with HIV than any other country in the world. According to UNAids, 5.7 million people had been infected there by the end of 2005.
April 25, 2007 – news.sawf.org
Pakistan’s first ‘outed’ HIV patient turns social activist
Thrown in jail, deported and ridiculed — Nazir Masih’s struggle as the first person in Pakistan to be publicly “outed” as HIV positive has led him on an often arduous journey from outcast to activist.
Islamabad (AFP) – The 52-year-old Masih’s struggles have been doubly difficult in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 160 million people because he is part of the tiny Christian religious minority. He has overcome these problems to help Pakistan’s “hidden” HIV/AIDS sufferers who get little help from the government — officially only 4,000 people here have the virus but UNAIDS says up to 80,000 are infected.
“When I was first diagnosed as HIV positive 17 years ago, I used to wish I was dead. I thought it would be better for me and my family than to suffer a life of stigma and ostracism,” the diminutive Masih told AFP. Masih was working as a helper for an Arab family in Abu Dhabi when a mandatory HIV test for renewing visas came back positive.
“Having spent years away from my wife, I did have sex with another woman. It was a mistake but the scale of the punishment was too severe for the act,” he says when asked how he contracted HIV. I was thrown in jail and later deported to Pakistan,” he said. Back in his homeland, the nightmare continued. A quack doctor told him that his condition was the same as syphilis and took most of his money for useless treatment, forcing him to sell his house.
Lesions began to appear on his skin. And then, he says, local newspapers found out about his condition and turned his life into a circus. Health officials alerted to the “threat” posed by Masih descended upon his house and told his wife to avoid all contact with him. This was the first time someone with HIV/AIDS had been publicly outed in Pakistan, says Nasir Afraz, deputy programme manager at the government’s National Aids Control Programme, although the first confirmed case here was in 1987.
“They really upset my family. My wife was told not to give me any food or even touch my clothes,” said Masih. “They made a complete mockery of me.” By 1998 he said he was contemplating suicide when he was contacted by a Christian charity. Christians make up less than three percent of the overwhelmingly Muslim population. With their help he set up an office in his bicycle shop and with a small team of workers he began an initiative to reach out to HIV sufferers and educate poor communities about the virus. He had only five patients at first — and not all of them welcomed his help.
“I have taken a lot of abuse from HIV patients. One man who was HIV positive got really angry and threatened me with a gun,” he said. In 2001, with the help of outside funding, Masih set up the New Light Aids Control Society in the eastern city of Lahore. Today it provides 124 people with free anti-retroviral therapy, counselling and financial aid. Masih’s dedication has also motivated others. In 2003 Nawaz Ahmed was working as a mobile technician in Kuwait when tests proved he was HIV positive.
“Because of the stigma associated with HIV and Aids, I didn’t tell people I was HIV positive but once I saw the work that Mr Nazir was doing it motivated me to act too. I started working at New Light in 2004,” he said. Masih says the official response to the growing HIV problem in Pakistan is inadequate. “Our government has ignored the HIV problem rather than attack it,” he said. “They have testing facilities and they have been providing anti-retroviral therapy since 2005 — two years after New Light — but the government makes no effort to engage the population.”
Bettina Schunter, an HIV and AIDS official for the United Nations Children’s Fund said the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan was likely to be 70,000-80,000, about 20 times more than the number actually diagnosed. “We know the people are there, we just haven’t officially found them yet,” Schunter said. But Afraz of the National Aids Control Programme denied that Pakistani authorities were not doing enough. “We have nine treatment centres across the country, about 650 patients are registered with us. Right now we are in the process of scaling up treatment and services for HIV patients to meet deadlines by 2010,” he said.
Love marriage turns out same-sex affair- Judge issues couple’s arrest warrants after medical report confirms ‘husband’ is a woman
by Staff Report
Lahore: Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for a married couple, Shamile Raj and Shehzina Tariq, after it was revealed that Shamile was originally a female, named Nazia, and had her sex changed later. The couple claimed that they had a love marriage on September 9, 2006, according to Muslim law with a prompt dower of Rs 10,000 and a deferred dower of Rs 100,000. They filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC) against three people including the girl’s father Tariq Hussain; the SP of Madina Town, Faisalabad; and SHO of Jhang Bazaar, Faisalabad, for harassing them.
The couple initially appealed to the additional sessions judge (ASJ) for alleviating them off the constant nagging by the police and Tariq Hussain, and the ASJ ruled in their favour. Despite that, their friends and families were harassed and the couple was told to get divorced. Therefore, the two filed a petition with LHC. However, on a hearing, Tariq told the court that Shamile was originally a woman and had her breasts and uterus removed. On hearing that, the court ordered a medical examination report of Shamile, under the supervision of the Lahore Services Hospital medical superintendent, to be submitted on May 8.
The report was submitted to the court on Wednesday and it confirmed Tariq’s allegations on Shamile. The only manly features Shamile had were facial hair and a deep voice. The report also mentioned that Shamile had scar on the chest from the breast removal. The couple did not show up on the court proceeding on Wednesday. The judge directed the Jhang Bazaar Faisalabad SHO Khalid Mehmood to arrest the couple and bring them to court on May 16, and issued a show-cause notice to Shamile/Nazia as to why she should not be convicted under the 193
Please join ANAA,
A network to raise voice against abuse of human rights in Pakistan http://4anaa.org/Membership/hon_member.htm
May 23, 2007 – dailyindia.com
Arrested ‘same-sex’ couple seek Musharraf’s intervention
From our ANI Correspondent
Lahore – A same-sex couple in Pakistan, who were arrested for marrying each other, have sought the help of ‘broadminded’ President General Pervez Musharraf. The couple– Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq –termed their arrest as unjust and said Musharraf should help them, as he believed in a liberalising society.
Raj and Tariq also said that they would also seek help from the international community, who would support their decision and let them live their lives in peace, reports the Daily Times. Stating that physical boundaries were not strong enough to break their emotional bond, the couple vowed to carry on their relationship, come what may. They were arrested on Sunday for going through with a same-sex marriage, which is against Islam. The arrest came after a Pakistani court ruled that the husband was actually a woman and had a sex change operation, which was not done properly.
June 13, 2007 – xtra.ca
Book review from http://www.xtra.ca/
‘Straightening Ali’ by Amjeed Kabil
New novel pits family obligations against personal happiness
by CE Gatchalian, Xtra West
When modern Western values clash with traditional non-Western ones, the differences can be irreconcilable. That’s the harsh reality tackled in Straightening Ali, a new novel by first-time British-Pakistani author Amjeed Kabil. The book chronicles a few days in the life of the title character, a young British-Pakistani man whose family arrange for him to marry a girl even though he’s told them he’s gay. In these few days Ali is forced to choose between a series of polarities: between his fiancé and his male lover, his familial obligations and his personal happiness, his cultural identity and his sexual identity. Speaking from his home in Birmingham, England, Kabil admits that a large chunk of the novel is autobiographical: “I would say around 70 percent is based on real events. Some of my own experiences of living in a British-Pakistani household are reflected in Ali’s story as well,” he says.
“My parents came to England in the 1950s and then brought their family up in accordance with their traditional values, which sometimes conflicted with Western ones,” he explains. “This has given me a unique insight into the gay British-Asian experience, and a wealth of stories to write about.” One of the novel’s strengths is that is doesn’t sugarcoat the very real divide between modernism and traditionalism, the secular and the religious. Ali leaves his wife shortly after the wedding night, and there is no easy reconciliation between Ali and his family. Kabil, too, left the wife his family had chosen for him, and the reconciliation with his family was slow and arduous. “They obviously wanted what they thought was best for me,” says the 35-year-old, whose day job is in the social housing field. “They could not understand why I wanted to leave after the wedding night. To them I had looked perfectly happy on my wedding day. There was a lot of hurt on both sides,” he recalls.
“I went for the shock factor on my first visit [after a two-year estrangement]-you know, bleached hair, pierced tongue and a nice tattoo on my leg,” he continues. “I remember my sister uttering, ‘Oh my God, he’s become camp.’ My thought at the time was, ‘Where the heck did she learn to use the word camp?’ “Nowadays, the relationship has evolved. There is some semblance of peace and calm. I visit my mother every couple of weeks and try and ring her every Sunday. My brother has stopped antagonizing me and started to use the G word to describe me-you know, gay. He’s even said something which was as close to acceptance as he could get. It went something like, ‘I know you’re gay but why can’t you get married like all the other queers in the community?'” Reconciliation with the larger Pakistani community has been more difficult. “I have had people from my community crossing the road when they’ve seen me, and I have yet to get an invite to a wedding of a relative. In fact I have been completely cut off from anything to do with the community.
“One of the lowest points was finding out that my grandfather had passed away and that I could not go to his funeral due to what the community would say. The same applied to my sister’s wedding.” Which leads Kabil to this blunt conclusion: “I personally think being gay and Muslim are not compatible and there is conflict for me with practicing the religion knowing what mainstream Islam’s homophobic view is. “I could be wrong about this and I know a lot of people might disagree with me. There are various Islamic gay activist groups that are trying to encourage Islam to be more accepting, and hopefully in time they might make some inroads…. However, right now I need more convincing.” Not that there aren’t instances in Pakistani or Islamic culture where same-sex goings-on are tolerated.
“In Pakistani culture, as long as you’re married and have children it’s acceptable for the men to play around with other men,” explains Kabil. “It’s something that happens a lot but isn’t spoken about. The attitude is that it’s okay as they’re married, have kids and have done their duty to the family. “In Pakistan it’s considered part of life for men to experiment with each other before they settle down and get married-usually an arranged marriage,” he continues. “It’s considered to be a phase they go through-a bit of masti, or harmless fun. Therefore, there is some level of acceptance as long as they’re not out and proud and ‘shaming’ the family.” Interestingly, when Kabil visited his ancestral homeland, it wasn’t the country his parents had led him to believe it would be. “Pakistan has moved on since the ’50s. It’s developed and grown. I remember when I visited I was surprised by just how much. In the cities like Islamabad it was surprisingly liberal,” he says, though he acknowledges that the rural villages are still conservative.
“My parents’ generation has struggled with Britain’s liberal values and they’ve found it difficult to reconcile the differences,” he reflects. “However, this is changing slowly. My parents’ generation has made mistakes with my generation forcing arranged marriages or taking their children back to Pakistan and getting them married to someone who has nothing in common with their child. “However, this is changing,” he repeats, “and the second generation which was born in Britain is making its own decisions. Cultural values are changing and evolving and I’m being realistic enough to say these have eroded in some cases as each generation finds its own set of values to hold onto.” The novel’s themes will certainly resonate as strongly here in Canada-probably the most multicultural, postmodern country in the world-as it will in the author’s native Britain. “I have a love and fascination with Canada,” Kabil says.
He’s been to Vancouver and says that the queer community here “was similar to what you would find in London, but more relaxed and friendly. I also found that Davie St had more of a community feel rather than just being a place that people went out on a Friday night or weekend.” His only complaint, he says, was the Canadian accent. “I had a little problem with it!”
15 June 2007 – BBC News
‘Censors end’ drag artist’s show
by Syed Shoaib Hasan
Islamabad – Pakistan’s first and only television chat show hosted by a transvestite is being taken off air after falling foul of the state censor, the host says. Ali Saleem, who dresses up as Begum Nawazish Ali for the show, said its last broadcast will be on 1 July. The popular late night programme features politicians and celebrities in frank conversations. It is believed to have aggravated feelings in the army with its remarks about the military.
Referring to pressure from the censors, Ali Saleem told the BBC: “My show was being slaughtered and the channel was helpless to do anything about it.” He said that some members of the army were particularly offended that the character of Begum Nawazish Ali is supposed to be the widow of an army colonel.
June 15, 2007 – The Hamilton Spectator
Pakistani woman flees imprisonment by family
by Sharon Boase
Asra has learned the value of freedom as few of us have, by having it stripped away by parents and siblings who insist they know what’s best for her. The 24-year-old Pakistani woman, who moved to Canada with her family at 19, said she was held under virtual house arrest for a year in Mississauga and another year in Karachi, Pakistan, before fleeing to Steeltown in an escape worthy of a spy caper.
“For the past three years, I’ve lived in freedom and there is so much happiness that comes with that,” Asra told the Second Closet Conference yesterday, a gathering that explored abuse within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Dressing the way I want to, loving who I want to, eating what I want and watching what I like to … I think people here can take that for granted.”
Asra has made her home in Hamilton since 2004. She endured emotional abuse and physical beatings by her father, mother and two brothers before finding the courage to escape. She spent a year in Oakville, and then Mississauga, studying journalism at Sheridan College, making friends and discovering herself. Then she announced she had a part-time job at a juice bar. Her father was furious. Why was his daughter not content to be supported by him until she was married? After an unsuccessful bid to run away, Asra was yanked out of college and made a virtual prisoner in her home without phone or Internet. In response to her apparent depression, her father announced a year later he was taking the family for a vacation to Pakistan. In Karachi, Asra’s passport was taken from her under the pretext they would be making a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia requiring visas.
This time she became a prisoner in a country where the police would not help her. Despondent, she called her lover back in Canada. “She was just the ultimate superhero,” Asra said. “She was like superwoman in getting the ball rolling.” With help from Canadian Foreign Affairs, Asra began planning her escape. Family documents were kept in a locked cupboard. Her father kept the key in his pocket. During a five-minute period one evening when her father hung up his jacket while he used the washroom, Asra used Plasticine to get an impression of the key. As her family said evening prayers, Asra snuck out to give the Plasticine to Pakistani-born Foreign Affairs workers. A day later, they brought her a key. But it wouldn’t work.
Shortly after, her mother and the brother who acted as her bodyguard announced they were returning to Mississauga to sell the family home. Asra took a hammer and screwdriver to the cupboard, only her passport wasn’t there. Asra distracted her younger brother and told her grandmother she was wanted on the telephone before racing out of the family home. She spent three tense days in Karachi, wearing a burka and avoiding crowds, as Foreign Affairs got her a ticket to Canada. She arrived in Hamilton Sept. 15, 2004. She recently called her parents after finding she misses them. “They’re still in the same space and I’m just this brand-new Asra.”
June 21, 2007 – Human Rights Watch
An identity under scrutiny
by Jessica Stern, Researcher on LGBT Rights (Published in DAWN)
Having lived more than half his life as a man, choosing his behaviour and changing his body to show the world the man he feels himself to be, Shumail Raj is trying to be what most men want to be — an honest man Shumail Raj and Shehzina Tariq have become the centre of a tragedy known throughout Pakistan and the world. Who are they? Eight months ago, Shumail and Shehzina were married in a ceremony that Shehzina describes as “a love marriage.” But since their story became public, they have been called every sort of name by reporters, lawyers, comedians, by people in the street.
Press reports refer to them as a “she-couple”, a “same-sex couple”, and as two “girls” or “lesbians.” Their union has been dismissed as the country’s first same-sex marriage. Yet Shehzina Tariq has stated clearly “We are not homosexual”. Everyone, it seems, gets to say who they are — except the two themselves. Instead, as a result of saying what they feel themselves to be, they have found themselves in conflict with the law. On May 28, they were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for perjuring themselves — for having told the Lahore High Court that Shumail Raj was a man. A court-appointed panel of medical examiners had to be called in to settle the issue of legal identity. It was more important to identify the history behind Shumail Raj’s full beard and masculine build than to recognise his right to privacy, his dignity and self-respect.
The prosecution of the couple and their humiliating depiction in the media has overlooked vital facts. Everyone has a biological sex, the body they are born with. However, everybody also has a sense of the self which transcends the body. Without that sense we are more than just what we are given, we would have no clothes, no jewellery, no hairstyles. We would practice no artifice upon ourselves. We would take no joy in making ourselves look beautiful or strong by our own standards, patterning our looks on others or choosing a different guise or style. Beyond biological sex, there is gender. Biological sex means how we classify bodies as male or female, based on factors such as hormones, chromosomes, and internal and external organs. Gender describes not what is “male” or “female,” but what is “masculine” or “feminine” -–– what different societies consider to be such; what individuals feel to be such. Everyone has an individual experience of how “masculine” or “feminine” they are. Some feel their inner selves to be different from how their bodies are categorised.
The Universal Declaration of Human rights states “all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “recognition as a person before the law” is a basic human right. The law should not condemn you because you seek to have your identity recognised. Its purpose should be to uphold an individual’s fundamental human rights, and respect and protect personal identity, dignity and freedom. Courts from Europe to Brazil to Egypt have upheld the right of people to have the genders they live in recognised by the law. In Egypt this legal finding was upheld by a fatwa from the sheikh of Al Azhar. Human rights also include the right to health. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations’ coordinating authority for health, observes that transgender people — people whose gendered selves are different from their bodies — experience “a desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one’s anatomic sex.” Their health and well-being depend on their being cared for and recognised as who they feel themselves to be.
The imprisonment of Shumail Raj and Shehzina Tariq sends the message that people born female have no right to call themselves male, even when that is how they see themselves. Shumail Raj may have been born female, but he underwent two surgeries to alter his gender, the first at the age of 16. He intends to go abroad for the third surgery that he feels would complete his growth into a man. Now 31, Shumail has lived more than half his life as a man, choosing his behaviour and changing his body to show the world the man he feels himself to be. Shumail Raj is not a perjurer — nor is Shehzina Tariq. He is trying to be what most men want to be, an honest man.
June 28, 2007 – earthtimes.org
Pakistani same-sex couple released on bail
Islamabad – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday released a same-sex couple on bail a month after they were handed down a three-year jail sentence by a lower court for alleged deception concerning the gender of one. On a petition filed by by Shumail Raj, who underwent a sex change 16 years ago, and his wife Shahzina Tariq, a three-member judicial bench headed by acting Chief Justice Rana Bhagwandas stayed their prison terms.
The Lahore High Court judged them guilty of perjury last month for lying about Raj’s gender. They had gone to the court for protection from relatives seeking to have their marriage annulled on the grounds that it was in violation of Islamic tenets. The couple’s defence counsel told the panel of judges that the court had no authority to order a medical test which revealed that Raj was originally a woman but had undergone a sex-change operation.
“Pakistani law doesn’t bar two women from living together,” the lawyer Babar Awan said. “The Lahore High Court should have shown sympathy for the poor couple,” a member of the judge’s panel Sardar Raza Khan said. The couple say they originally married to protect Shahzina from being sold into marriage to pay off her uncle’s gambling debts.
Shahzina told Pakistani media that relatives had tortured and threatened to kill her when she did not consent to the forced marriage to a brother-in-law of her uncle.
August 14, 2007 – Washington Post
Begum Nawazish Ali – Drag Queen Defies U.S.
by Amar C. Bakshi
Lahore, Pakistan – “I’m a drag queen, darling…not an extremist…and I still say if Pakistanis had more self-respect, we’d be even more anti-American,” says Ali Saleem, who glosses his lips and dons a sari each week to interview celebrities and politicians on his TV program Begum Nawazish Ali, a talk show sensation in Pakistan. “I’m not speaking religion; it’s common sense.” From politics to culture, Ali says American intervention in Pakistan has “brought nothing but sadness” by supporting dictators and rendering Pakistan’s people impotent, constantly looking to the outside world, particularly the U.S., for help solving its own problems. He sees his TV show as an attempt to rekindle a sense of pride and responsibility in his viewers. He uses our interview to call for a boycott of all American goods and cultural products. Pakistanis must “Turn within for inspiration.”
That’s what Ali did. Growing up in an army cantonment on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border during General Zia ul-Haq’s years, Ali always knew he was a woman and “would just sit and pray for hours and hours in one place and say again and again to Allah, ‘Make me a girl, please make me a girl.’” Allah seemed to be listening. In the late ’80s Zia ul-Haq’s plane mysteriously crashed, the Cold War drew to a close, and Ali’s first muse, the 35-year-old Benazir Bhutto, became Prime Minister. “I fell head over heels in love with her,” Ali says and discovered his uncanny ability to impersonate Benazir. He achieved a modicum of parlor fame performing “my Benazir” before his friends at school and later in elite theaters around Karachi.
But as years passed by, he fell deep into depression, unhappy living out his fantasies through the façade of another. He claims to have attempted suicide 17 times. But one day a surgeon in Lahore associated with a new private TV station took him aside and told Ali there was “a true diva within,” dying to come out. When Musharaff liberalized the airwaves in 2003, it did. Ali stopped impersonating Bhutto and developed “the woman I was born to be” before the camera. Begum Nawazish Ali was born.
Ali tells me this story in his hotel room over cigarettes and fried shrimp at 2pm. He just woke up but is still tired. He drank a lot the night before. The conversation turns to sex. “Any man off the street will be open for sex with another man, trust me, but ask them if they’re gay and of course they say no. In a way, Pakistan is much more open than it’s given credit for,” Ali says, despite draconian anti-sodomy laws and routine abuse of gender minorities.
I ask about the sexual revolution in the West, and drag TV hosts from the UK and U.S. Were they influences? “Not at all!” he exclaims. American “jeans, t-shirts, Coca-Cola, great.” But it’s not about Americanization, Ali emphasizes. “Pakistanis are evolving their own way forward.” In fact, those who link internal sexual struggles too closely with the U.S. can actually do the movement a disservice by propagating the myth that homosexuality is derived from Western licentiousness, says Ali. He says homegrown heroines like Begum Nawazish Ali must give the underground gay scene public voice, not U.S. calls for gender equality. “America just cares about its interests, not about principle,” says Ali. “You can’t trust it. It’s selfish and cold.” What Pakistan needs is a warm local face of difference, be it a male, female, or both.
April 14th, 2008 – Thaindia News
We’re just about tolerated: Pakistani American gay activist
by Ashok Easwaran
Chicago, (IANS) Being an openly gay Muslim is not easy, says Pakistani American poet and activist Ifti Nasim who is now the subject of a BBC documentary. Ever an iconoclast, Chicago-based Nasim has on several occasions outraged the Muslim community through his poetry and columns. Accolades have been a little late in coming to him, but Nasim expressed his pleasure at the latest honour – the BBC film. “Success makes the world accept you on your own terms,” said Nasim. But being an openly gay person in the conservative Muslim community has not been easy. “They never totally accept you,” the 50 plus Nasim told IANS, “they just about tolerate you.”
In 1996, Nasim was inducted into Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. His works are recommended reading at Santa Clara University in California and at Truman College, Chicago. His Urdu poetry has won him the grudging respect of the Pakistani literary establishment. He has also recited his poems at the festival in India to honour the late poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi. Nasim talks about his childhood in Pakistan and the discovery that he was gay. “I had the middle son syndrome,” he said, “as one of a large family, I was the invisible child.” Naturally enough, loneliness was an early and constant companion. When I was 14, as a child whom no one loved, I sought other avenues to fulfil my desires. I ended up having a crush on my teachers. None of them gave me a second look. So I created this phantom lover to have secret trysts with,” said Nasim.
Seeking to escape from an arranged marriage, Nasim came to the United States when he was 21. “I read an article in Life magazine, which said that the US was the place for gays to be in,” he said. “Moreover, I was also seeking an escape from the mullahs in Pakistan.” Nasim has no qualms about making statements which outrage fellow Pakistanis. “Their initial attitude towards me was of total rejection. But after 9/11, when I got increasingly involved in activism on behalf of the community, they have come to a grudging acceptance,” he said. The sceptics include his family members. “I respect his views,” says his brother-in-law good-humouredly. “He has earned the respect he has today. But I wish he was a little more modest (about being gay).” Nasim, who had already established himself as an Urdu poet of some repute, shot into fame with the book “Narman” (Persian for half man, half woman).
The manner in which Nasim’s verse was published in Pakistan underscores its controversial nature: Because Nasim’s publisher knew that there might be “trouble” having the manuscript typeset, the publisher stood over the printer’s shoulder as the text was entered into the computer. The real nature of the manuscript was not evident to the printer until the books were printed. When the printer realized that the books dealt with gay-related themes, he screamed: “Take these unholy and dirty books away from me, or I’ll set them on fire!” Because of the controversy, the work is being sold underground. It has generated a surreptitious market. For long, Nasim was a star salesman for a Mercedes dealer in Chicago and drove a trademark gold Mercedes. He has since quit the job to devote himself full time to writing. “The money was good,” he said, “but each day I found my soul dying a little.”
Besides being a columnist, Nasim is the host of Radio Sargam, which gives him an opportunity to indulge in his love of music. “I love old songs” he says, “they are my lullabies.” Kishore Kumar, Noor Jahan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are among his favourites. Music, says Nasim, should build bridges and through his programme he attempts to build one between the Indian and Pakistani community. Nasim has taken up the cause of gays, irrespective of their religion or national origin. “If you are a Muslim and a gay, you are a minority within a minority,” he said. Nasim said that he was totally against marriage for gays. “Why should gays get married anyway?” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “They have seen enough suffering without it.”
June 09, 2008 – The Jakarta Post
Asian gay, transgender groups fight for their rights
by Irawaty Wardany, Denpasar
(Bali) Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Asia have agreed to develop an international network to advocate protection of their rights in their respective countries and at the regional level. Bali hosted a conference of the groups from June 2 to 6 in the tourism enclave Nusa Dua. The conference was attended by 21 participants from eight countries — Indonesia, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China and Thailand. “We agreed to make some kind of international network to advocate protection of LGBT rights in our countries,” Rido Triawan, head of Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian non-governmental organization that fights for LGBT rights, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. He said it would be like an open communication channel connecting LGBY communities in different countries, so that when there was a problem in one country the communities could work in unison to apply political pressure on the government in question.
Generally, Rido said, LGBT communities in Asia faced similar problems. “We are all at this time suffering from stigmatization, discrimination, persecution from religious groups and discriminative government regulations,” he said. “For example, the 2004 regional regulation in Palembang, South Sumatra, categorizes LGBT as a form of prostitution,” Rido said.
He said religious-based persecution was the most difficult problem LGBT groups faced in Indonesia. “Those religious doctrines are then being integrated into the formal education curriculum. Naturally, the curriculum educates the students that the only ‘normal’ and accepted sexual orientation is heterosexuality,” he said. Consequently, other sexual orientations are considered as not “normal” and unacceptable. This has resulted in students and communities discriminating against members of the homosexual and transgender community. “There are many cases of discrimination experienced by members of the LGBT community. One example involved a man who openly acknowledged his sexual orientation of being gay. Suddenly, his company fired him for no apparent reason,” Rido said.
He said other gay workers faced varying levels of hostility from co-workers. “They suddenly keep a distance or, even worse, socially isolate him just because he is gay,” he said. He said upholding the rights of the LGBT community was a significant issue since sexual orientation was also part of human rights. Rido said the LGBT community in Indonesia just wanted to be acknowledged and treated the same as the other Indonesian citizens, who enjoyed the right to education, health, work and all the other basic human rights. “It is still very hard for people to accept the fact that LGBT are also human beings, who should be treated humanely,” said Arus Pelangi secretary general, Yuli Rustinawati.
A Sri Lankan LGBT activist, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, said the situation in Sri Lanka was worse than in Indonesia. “Being part of LGBT communities in Sri Lanka is similar to committing a criminal offense. That’s the reason why people with LGBT sexual orientation prefer to be invisible,” she said. She said members of the LGBT community in her country who fell victim to criminal acts often didn’t report their cases to the police, because the treatment they would receive could be worse than the perpetrators of the criminal acts. She said she participated in LGBT conferences and seminars around the world to learn about human rights instruments that could be used to advance the struggle in her country.
November 09, 2008 – Press Trust of India
Pakistani gay finds love across the border
Islamabad – The issue of legalizing homosexuality has led to heated arguments in the corridors of power in New Delhi, but that hasn’t stopped a Pakistani gay from professing his love for an Indian man. A middle-class accounting student from Lahore, who founded a website called ‘Pakistan Gays’ two years ago for homosexuals, says he is in love with an Indian man he met on the Internet. Yet he harbours no hope of living in a gay relationship in either Pakistan or India where homosexuality is illegal and tolerance for gays low.
“It is difficult to be homosexual in Pakistan…because you always fear that if the people around you knew about your sexuality, what bad feelings they would have about you. We think that we are born this way, but still we feel we are doing wrong,” said the 22-year-old, who spoke to the Boston Globe on condition of anonymity. The accounting student, who runs the paid website from Internet cafes so his family doesn’t find out, has signed up about 600 members of whom 302 have identified themselves as gay, 241 as bisexual and the rest as transgender. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by whipping, imprisonment or even death in Pakistan.
However, the report in the Boston Globe said, “But across all classes and social groups, men have sex with men. In villages throughout the country, young boys are often forcibly ‘taken’ by older men, starting a cycle of abuse and revenge that social activists and observers say is the common pattern of homosexual sex in Pakistan. “Often these boys move to the cities and become prostitutes. Most people know it happens from the police to the wives of the men involved.”
But not all of Pakistan’s gays are leading anonymous lives. Faisal Alam, a Pakistani American founded Al-Fatiha Foundation, a Washington-based organisation for gay and lesbian Muslims, in 1998. Closer home, 27-year-old banker Jalaluddin Ahmed Khan has launched a blog to voice the angst of the gay community, which is forced to lead a hush-hush life as same sex relationships are illegal in Pakistan. Khan describes himself as a “psychotic, sarcastic and socialist blogger from Karachi” who writes about the vibrant gay life in the southern port city and in Pakistan, and invites people “looking for gay love” to join him in the virtual world.
“Homosexuality is religiously unacceptable in Pakistan. Homosexuality is socially unacceptable in Pakistan. (But) Homosexuality is an entrenched cultural truth in Pakistani history. And in Pakistani life today,” Khan wrote about the hypocritical attitude towards gays in his blog “Tuzk-e-Jalali”. “As long as people are quiet about it and pursue homosexual desires before or after marriage and are not caught in the act, it is OK. Men are allowed incredible leeway in their sexual pursuits as long as they are not discovered,” he wrote.
Khan feels Karachi is the city where homosexuality finds the most social acceptance. “Peshawar and Quetta are cities where acceptance of pederasty and the homosexual act are considered normal but any open avowal of this would not be acceptable to anyone. In contrast, in Karachi people might still accept you for being a homosexual.” Khan, who claims most Pakistani homosexuals are forced to marry and that some lead active gay lives post-marriage, detailed in a long post his parents’ reaction when he told them he was gay and decided to call off his engagement.
“I am gay. I have told my father, mother and sisters about it. They find it disgusting, wrong and morally corrupt. They are not ready to accept that I am gay…I want to be gay. I want to live a life of my choosing. That is not possible if I live with my parents like all other normal Pakistani guys,” he wrote. Khan says there are hardly any “cruising spots” for gays in Pakistan unlike other parts of the world — “(therefore) beach parties and farm house parties are quite common because of the secluded location”. But the plus side, according to Khan, is that Pakistan’s gay community is not divided into strong sub-groups like in the rest of the world.
November 30, 2008 – paperarticles.com
Worlds Aids Day
With the world becoming a global village, the youth of Pakistan are quite the same as youth anywhere else in the world. Media exposure is largely responsible for fostering the latest trends and practices that are rapidly adopted by our youth. However, what makes them more vulnerable to changing lifestyles is the lack of access to the right resources, which includes basic information and awareness on crucial issues such as HIV and Aids.
HIV is a disease that was unknown to the world about thirty years ago, yet the impact it has had on the lives of millions of people the world over is mindboggling. Africa has lost nearly an entire generation to this disease and its impact will be seen for at least the next two generations; if not more. Orphans suffering from Aids are left under the care of old and ailing grandparents and without a steady source of income, education is unthinkable. HIV hence becomes a vicious circle that traps the whole family.
South Asia, particularly Pakistan presents a different picture altogether. Pakistan to date, has recorded, about 80,000 to 150,000 HIV patients (UNAIDS estimates) which includes high risk groups such as men who have sex with men (MSM), female sex workers, blood transfusions and intravenous drug users. In Karachi, a study shows that HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs increased from under one per cent in early 2004 to 26 per cent in March 2005. Pakistan still has an opportunity to stop and control the spread of HIV among masses but efforts and interventions must be initiated immediately.
In terms of lack of resources, it is interesting to note that when one wants to access information on the HIV situation among the youth in Pakistan there is hardly any statistical data available. On the Unite for Children, a website by UNAIDS designed for the youth, only 31 per cent of the required information is available regarding the youth of Pakistan.
According to a World Bank Report, at least 54 NGOs are involved in HIV and Aids public awareness and in the care and support of people living with HIV and Aids in Pakistan. These NGOs also work on education and prevention in terventions targeting sex workers, truck drivers, and other high-risk groups. NGOs serve as members of the Provincial HIV/Aids Consortium, which has been set up in all the four provinces to coordinate HIV/Aids prevention and control activities. Although NGOs are actively working to prevent HIV and Aids, it is believed that they only man age to reach less than five percent of the vulnerable population.
Church World Service (CWS) Pakistan/Afghanistan is an NGO which has been highlighting the issue of HIV and Aids on a one-to-one basis with the youth for the past four years. Everyone wants to work with the vul nerable segments of society and edu cate those who are most likely to con tract HIV. Therefore, most interven tions, by the government and NGOs are targeted towards sex workers, drug users, truck drivers and eunuchs. In principal CWS too should target vulnerable segments of the society, but uniquely it has its own definition of “vulnerable” population such as those who have access to a wide variety of media influence and want to imitate them without the knowledge of repercussions. To this effect a programme in schools has been initiated to educate youth on HIV.
Interestingly, while the students do not hesitate to attend these educational sessions; the school administration is reluctant to provide such education to the students. Therefore, in order to reach the youth one has to first convince the administration. Secondly, the schools are very cautious about the material that will be used and shared with the youth. After seeking all approvals, finally sessions are conducted. Despite media exposure, and AIDS spreading steadily, information about HIV is still a taboo in our society! However, the level of interest and enthusiasm shown by the youth in these sessions makes the effort worthwhile. In each school, in every session, whether it is Punjab or Sindh, there is always a friend’s friend who is involved in drugs or other risky behavior. While the youngsters would never admit who the victim is, the confession is enough to realise that indeed the target audience is being educated.
Questions like, ‘If a dog bites an HIVinfected person and then bites another person, will the second person also get HIV?’ makes the whole group laugh. But it reveals the level of ignorance prevalent in our society. Lack of resources makes basic and simple information inaccessible to youth hence making them more vulnerable. However, much as the need is felt, due to cultural constraints of our society these sessions never touch upon the most common transmission of HIV: sex. Youngsters are always exploring the Web searching for information, which could be both positive and negative. Therefore, it is best to navigate them towards websites that provide correct information. These constraints and challenges are unique to our society and culture and we need to find solutions within these limited resources.
Until a cure is found for HIV, prevention remains the priority in our response to HIV and Aids. The adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ cannot be more befitting for any other disease as it is in the context of HIV. Prevention campaigns need to be multipronged. Educating youth on this issue can be instrumental in preventing further spread of this disease. The youth can work at multi-levels, amongst their peers and families as well. Over 50 per cent of the population in Pakistan is under 18 years of age and if we do not educate them now, the epidemic will take root and spread into the masses.
March 30, 2009 – Newsweek
Out of the Closet, at Gunpoint – I thought I’d never tell my Muslim parents that I’m gay. Then a terrifying encounter gave me no choice.
by Shariq Mahbub
As a gay, Muslim teenager growing up in a posh area of Karachi, Pakistan, I struggled to hide from my family the fact that I was attracted to other men. I immersed myself in literature, and as a precocious ninth grader I produced and acted in George Bernard Shaw’s farce “Passion, Poison and Petrifaction,” a play whose title unconsciously expressed my nervous view of the Pakistani world outside my cocoon. Looking for an exit, I was a superachiever in a hurry. At 18, I earned a scholarship to Stanford University. I should have made a clean break then. But all through college I dated women, willing myself to be “normal.” Not surprisingly, my attraction to men didn’t wane.
In grad school, I was ready for adventure and decided to spend a summer back home researching rural-development projects. I worked with a local social worker, a handsome, bearded man who liked to flirt. We’d sit together under the sun discussing politics, while I observed his body under his diaphanous kurta shalwar. Knowing he was married, I didn’t dare make a move. One evening I drove to a park known for being Karachi’s unofficial cruising spot for gay men. Within a few minutes I noticed a burly man with a heavy mustache in his late 30s gesturing toward me. My heart was pounding as he approached. “I have a place we can go,” he said, and we started walking toward the park’s exit, visions of a forbidden tryst flashing in my mind.
In my air-conditioned car he gave me driving directions. Looking around, he suddenly sneered, “This is a very nice, expensive car.” I started getting nervous. He didn’t touch me. He gave no signals. We arrived at the entrance to a dingy house and entered the driveway. He locked the gate behind us, told me to wait in the car and disappeared into the house. I was sweating profusely now and wondered, “Can I still get out of this situation?” Five minutes later he came out, visibly angry now, sat in the car and pointed a gun at me. He said he was an undercover cop and that inside the house were several men waiting to rape me to teach me a lesson. “What is wrong with people like you?” he yelled maniacally. “You should like girls, or you will be treated like one.”
My lust had transformed into immobilizing fear. He told me to drive again, and as we drove around for what seemed like hours, I had a vague sense that I needed to play his game and find a way to survive this ordeal. He demanded that I admit homosexuality was a sin, and I eventually complied. I also promised to meet him at a hotel the following day, where he would tell me how much money he wanted. He warned me that he had my car’s license-plate number, and that he’d track me down if I didn’t show.
When I got home, I made excuses to my parents about why I was late, then went right to bed. After an anguished night of tossing and turning, I emerged from the wreckage of my mind determined to come out to my father, who has a calmer temperament than my mother, and ask for his help.
I met my father in his office to keep the confession private. Shaking, I blurted out what had happened, asking him not to tell my mother. I saw immediate worry wash across his face. If he was upset about my sexuality, he hid it and focused on dealing with my predicament. He wisely counseled me that the man was probably not a cop, but a gangster looking to blackmail or kidnap me, and that I was lucky to have escaped. We determined that I would not meet him at the hotel. We didn’t talk about the incident again. But my father told my mother, believing that she had a right to know, and scenes of crying and recrimination ensued. They told me that I was going through a phase, that I just hadn’t met the right girl yet. They expected me to change. I quickly left Karachi to head back abroad. I needed to get away. On the way to the airport I imagined I spotted the thug on the street, but I never heard from him again.
The following year I found a job in New York and knew I would never return to live in Pakistan. As my financial independence grew, my parents adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In 1996 I met my Buddhist partner. He gave me a gold and platinum ring inscribed with his initials, and I wear it with devotion to this day. Over time, my parents have come to accept my life. When they visit now, all four of us go out for Pakistani food, and it almost feels like home.
Mahbub is a spiritual teacher, energy healer and financial consultant. He is writing a book called “A Spiritual Path for a New Age.”
June 1, 2009 – ABC News
‘Happy and Gay’ in Pakistan?
Pakistani Laws Condemn Homosexuality, but Some People Are Willing to Discuss Their Sexuality Openly
by Nick Schifrin
Lahore, Pakistan – It wasn’t until she was 16 years old, when she’d left her Pashtun family in Peshawar for an elite school where the teachers were nuns, that Minot realized she was gay. “I found out when I dated my literature teacher [a nun],” she said. “I got an A.” It is virtually unheard of in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for a lesbian to be willing to discuss her sexuality openly, especially a lesbian who is also Pashtun. The Taliban, who are overwhelmingly Pashtun and were born in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas near Peshawar, have pushed walls of bricks on top of gay Afghans.
But Minot, now 42, who asked that only her nickname be used because of societal stigma, sat recently in jeans and a T-shirt in the Pakistani city of Lahore, confidently talking about her sexuality, her girlfriends and her attempts to be with men. “I have been with men, two men,” she said. “But that was to get the confusion out of my mind. Since then,” she said, pausing, “happy and gay.” Pakistan’s religious laws punish homosexuality with stoning, but gay members of the elite are to be found in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. And homosexual relationships can be found in villages across the country, although they sometimes involve force and pedophilia in rural areas.
But in a country where most of the entertaining is done in people’s homes, most gay Pakistanis are terrified of practicing openly or speaking about their sexuality publicly. They are comfortable discussing it among their friends, behind closed doors. There is little public acceptance of the notion that someone can love a member of the same sex. Minot is an exception by Pakistani standards, her confidence created by a unique support network, a well-educated, wealthy, liberal family and friends who call themselves members of Lahore’s elite, more open to Western values than the vast majority of Pakistanis. She calls herself the most open lesbian in the country.
“For me, it’s really easy,” she said. “By the grace of God, if you’re confident in this society, and you’re open about your sexuality, people will come onto you more. I would say I’m the only woman I think in Pakistan who will talk openly. … I’m probably the only woman in Pakistan who is confident in her sexuality.”
Pressure to Marry
In Pashtun society, most people marry before they turn 20. Minot was engaged to one of her cousins, a common practice. “I told him, ‘I could totally put up the façade in front of people. But I’m gay and I will do what I want to do. If you can accept me like that, then it’s OK. I’ll marry you. But I’m not going to stop it,'” she said, recalling a conversation she and her cousin had after he had returned from school in the United States. “He goes, ‘I can’t marry you under these circumstances.'” Every Pakistani is expected to marry. Most marriages are arranged and, even in more liberal circles, it is rare to find Pakistanis in their 30s who are not married. Divorce is extremely rare and looked down upon by everyone except the elite.
And so many gay women get married, sometimes to gay men. One such couple, described by one of their friends, is in a “happy relationship.” The woman “100 percent loves women,” their friend said. “But she’s also in love with her husband and her husband is in love with her.” She openly has sex with other women. “There are no accusations going up and down, about who has walked in with who,” the friend said. But it is still not something to be discussed publicly. When this reporter contacted a different woman he had been told was gay and living openly with her gay husband, she bristled and objected to the call. “Haven’t you heard about my marriage?” she asked, denying she was gay.
Being gay in Pakistan “is a social taboo,” one gay man said. “Very strong, it’s extremely suffocating.” Jaluluddin Ahmed Khan, 27, who describes himself as a “psychotic, sarcastic and socialist blogger from Karachi,” blogs regularly about the angst and frustration he believes many Pakistani gay men experience, especially those with traditional parents.
“I came out to them, and told them that I am this way, [but] they keep pestering me about getting married and they did not let me move out of the house, even though I could have,” he wrote in December on his blog, Tuzk-e-Jalali. “I don’t think I can forgive them, or I will, or I may, I just know that I have anger and hatred against them. And then there is the inevitable feeling of having lost five years of my life fighting with my parents on this one topic. It is a very long period of life, and I felt I was caged, and I want my time back, but alas, it is the greatest of wishes that can not be fulfilled.”
Minot has long since revealed her sexuality to her parents and siblings, although she keeps it from most of her extended family. “I come from a conservative family in Peshawar,” she said, describing the handful of family members who served in the military and the powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. “And I don’t think they would be accepting of me.” Her father, she said, knows about her sexuality but chooses not to acknowledge it. “When I told my mother, I said, ‘Mama, I’m gay.’ She turned around and said, ‘But gay are men. You are a woman.’ I said, ‘Yeah. I like women.’ She said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s very good.’ So, I was like, ‘I cannot go deeper than that.’ The topic was closed and we never spoke about it again.”
Clash Between Conservatives and Liberals
In May, 2005 a gay couple caught having sex in the tribal belt along the Afghan border were publicly lashed. A few months later, when a 42-year-old man in the same area married an impoverished young man, a tribal council told the couple to leave the area or be killed for breaking tribal “values and ethics.” Pakistan’s tribal areas have always been more conservative than its settled areas and have always operated under their own set of customs and laws.
But the country as a whole has also always struggled to balance civil law with religious law. The constitution states that sodomy is illegal, punishable with two to 10 years in prison. But in the late 1980s, President Zia-ul-Haq enshrined conservative Islamic law within the country’s civil law. The Hudood Ordinance of 1979 lays down violent punishments for adultery, drinking alcohol and sodomy, which can result in a sentence of being stoned to death.
In a place like Lahore (the second largest city in Pakistan), where Pakistanis can often bring wine to restaurants and where parties often include drugs, those laws seem like they come from a different world. Even there, though, the local film board briefly banned the popular Bollywood movie “Dostana” because the male protagonists of the film pretend to be gay. But among the elite, among the Pakistanis who travel to the West, where people are more culturally aware and better educated, the culture loosens.
“There’s a lot of awareness because of the media,” a gay Pakistani man said. “You see movies, and you see things, and the parents have developed an understanding, and eventually, every parent has to accept it.” That may be a bit overstated but in the past few years, Minot said, Pakistanis have changed their opinions about gay men and women, especially in Lahore, where she has lived for the past 20 years. She refuses to spend much time in Peshawar. “I would be stoned, the way I am open, up there. … It’s not acceptable at all,” she said.
But in Lahore a few years ago, she said, she and her girlfriend were “the first couple who actually came out and went open as a gay couple. And I don’t like to give myself credit, but it gave a lot of our friends a lot of hope. ‘If you guys can do it, so can we.’ It used to be very closeted before. But now it’s not.” When asked whether she worries that people will judge her, she said, “I don’t care if they think I’m a sinner. That’s for God to judge.”
5 Jul 2009 – The Times of India
Pakistan’s lone gay writer rests pen, says sorry
Islamabad – Gay community in India may be celebrating the Delhi High Court’s landmark ruling that decriminalized homosexuality, the lone Pakistani who blogs about gay travails has decided to stop writing.
“Not in Pakistan. I cannot. Sorry,” Jalaluddin, who blogs at Tuzk-e-Jalali, wrote in his latest and perhaps last post on June 28. “I guess all of you guys will have to get used to the fact that I will, from now on, be blogging very irregularly, as in once a quarter or something.” Jalal describes himself as a “20-something sarcastic, psychotic, socialist, homosexual blogger from Karachi” who was educated as an engineer, but works as a banker and dreams of being a traveler and writer.
“For all the actions where I have come out of the closet to my family and friends does not mean that I am ready to do it officially. So, for now, I am going to have the following goals in life, I want to learn how to speak French and Farsi (Persian) and I want to learn horse riding, sword fighting, archery and shooting,” he wrote. “One of the reasons for not blogging for the past three months would be the fear elicited by the fact that my blog has been quoted. The closet door is being banged at very hard. I would have to request you people to at least not try to knock on the closet door,” he wrote.
July 16, 2009 – PinkNews
Pakistan court orders equal benefits for trans people
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The Supreme Court in Islamabad has ordered that trans people should receive equal protection and support from the government. The three judges, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Muhammad Sair Ali and Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, said on Tuesday that financial support must be given to trans individuals individuals through Bait-ul-Maal (a worldwide relief and development organisation) or income support programmes. The Interior Ministry has also been directed to ensure police provide protection to trans people from criminal elements.
Islamic jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who submitted the petition, took on the case after the arrest of several trans people in Taxila recently. He said that trans people, especially those from poor families, were often subject to oppression and harassment, and were forced to earn a living through begging and prostitution. Dr Khaki added that trans people were often thrown out of their homes by fathers and brothers and cited the issue of identity cards showing female photos but male genders.
A trans woman known only as Shazia told the court that while trans people from wealthy families could be educated and find jobs, those from poorer backgrounds are abused by society, police and criminal gangs. She added that she feared her appearance that day could result in her death.
The court ordered Dr Khaki to work with social sector non-governmental organisations to devise welfare programmes for trans people. It also asked provincial social welfare departments to consider solutions to help lift individuals out of poverty. Proceedings have been adjourned until late August.
November 1, 2009 – Daily Times
Mob kills elderly man for being ‘homosexual’
by Staff Report
Karachi – An elderly man was beaten to death by an angry mob for being involved in a homosexual act within the jurisdiction of Shah Latif police station on Saturday. As per details, the incident took place at Pir Sarhandi Goth during the wee hours of Saturday. Police officials said that 60-year-old Mohammad Hashim Jhokio, son of Mehran, was a homosexual and added that unidentified people killed him at his residence. The deceased was a watchman by profession and had been married for the last 25-30 years without any children.
Police officials further said that the deceased was living separately in the village and was abhorred by his fellow villagers for being a homosexual. They said a group of angry people raided his house where he was indulged in an obscene activity with a man and killed him on the spot by hitting him with clubs and rods. Police officials said that apparently it was a case of ‘vigilante justice’ as people were enraged over the sexual behaviour of the deceased Jhokio. However, there were no details available about the other person who was present with the deceased when he was beaten to death.
On the other hand, the Shah Latif police were reluctant about giving clear details of the event leading to the killing of the man and they said that some unidentified persons killed the man while he was sleeping. “We have also learnt that the man was a homosexual and the locals hated him for his sexual activities, but we have no evidence that he was killed by a mob,” police officials said. The police have registered an FIR no 507/09 against unidentified persons and were investigating the motive behind the killing.
In another incident, a security guard of a private company committed suicide on Saturday at the house where he was deputed in the limits of Bahadurabad police station. Police said the victim, Syed Maqsood Ali Shah, 28, son of Syed Mustafa Shah was deployed at House No 265 at Bahadurabad. He shot himself in the chest and died on the spot. The victim was the resident of Garden East. The cause of the suicide could not be ascertained.
Police said the deceased was a married man and could have committed suicide over financial problems. His body was shifted to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) for autopsy. In another incident, a baby girl was killed and her father was seriously injured when the motorcycle on which they were riding was hit by a speeding car on II Chundrigar Road within the limits Mithadar police station.
Police and eyewitnesses said the victim Laraib was going with her father on a motorcycle when a car hit them. Both of them fell on the road, causing fatal injuries to the child killing her on the spot while her father, Aamir, sustained injuries, but survived. The Mithadar police said the identity of the car driver could not be ascertained who himself shifted the injured girl and his father to JPMC and then disappeared. Police have registered a case against an unknown person and started looking for him.
18 November 2009 – UNHCR
Pakistan: Situation of homosexuals in urban centres, particularly in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore (December 2007 – November 2009)
Evidence of open and active gay communities in urban centres of Pakistan, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. Specific information relating to the situation of homosexuals in urban centres was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. A 3 April 2009 article in The Independent, which discusses Chay, Pakistan’s first magazine about sexuality, notes that in Lahore and Karachi, the “gay scene is largely underground” (The Independent 3 Apr. 2009). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
Though not specific to urban centres, the following information may be of interest. A 6 February 2008 International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) report, submitted to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council for its 2008 Universal Periodic Review, indicates that
There is no known grassroots activism among lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and transgender (zenana) communities in Pakistan. This lack of activism, the silences around sexualit(ies), and deeply closeted status of most gays and lesbians in Pakistan (many of whom lead double lives to avoid revealing their sexual orientation) makes it difficult to accurately assess their living conditions and human rights situation. Anecdotal information from Pakistani gay people who have left the country describes fear, secrecy, isolation, suicides, forced marriage, family and community pressure to conform to heterosexual norms.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
The Independent [London]. 3 April 2009. “Let’s Talk About Sex, and Rights, Pakistan.” [Accessed 10 Nov. 2009]
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). 6 February 2008. “Human Rights and Transgender People in Pakistan.” [Accessed 5 Nov. 2009]
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Al-Fatiha, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Imaan, Pakistan Society, AIDS Prevention Association of Pakistan (APAP), Sathi Foundation and a social anthropologist did not provide information within the time constraints of this Response.
Internet sites, including: 365 Gay.com, The Advocate, Al-Fatiha Foundation, Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Asylum Aid, Australia Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Freedom House, GlobalGays.com, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Imaan, International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, New Internationalist, Pink News, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), SodomyLaws.org, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC), United Kingdom (UK) Border Agency, United Nations (UN) Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
25 Octber 2009 – Dawn.com
Kiss and tell
by Rabab Naqvi
An official selection at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival and shown at the 33rd Festival des film du monde Montreal (Montreal World Film Festival), Chan di Chummi (Kiss the Moon) is a revealing documentary about the lives of transsexuals in Pakistan. In the opening scene, script writer and director Khalid Gill says that as a child he was mystified by the transsexuals and he has tried to demystify them in the film. Shot beautifully in Lahore, Chan di Chummi is a probing but compassionate portrayal of the sub-culture of transsexuals in Pakistan. I left the theatre with a heavy heart after seeing the film and couldn’t help but think that despite the discrimination and prejudice against them, these transsexuals are just like any other human beings. Why did we fail to treat them as such? Why did we always dwell on the biological differences and not consider their emotions and feelings? Gill has succeeded admirably in his ‘passionate attempt to forge intimate contact with the transsexual community.’
The documentary features several transsexuals. Focusing in particular on three of them — Ainee, Sonya and Boota — Gill explores in depth the lives of these people shunned by the mainstream society. He examines the myths, folklore and superstitions surrounding them, including the misconception that they can bring good or bad luck upon others. It is amazing how in a culture that promotes traditional family values, the transsexuals function as a closely knit non-traditional family system. All of them said how they are more comfortable in their adopted transsexual family than they were with their biological families. Although without much formal education, they were quite articulate.
Verging at times on a philosophical acceptance of their lot, they expressed profound thoughts on their physical, psychological and emotional needs and a realistic understanding of what was achievable. They mentioned the mistreatment meted to them by the general public and their own families. ‘People taunt us and mock us, we bear it in silence most of the time. People say we give Pakistan a bad name,’ said Ainee.
‘My family made me do all the work done by a woman, but they were ashamed of me. They use to beat me because I was different. My parents named me Tariq. I changed it to Sonya because I did not have the feelings of a normal man,’ said Sonya. When asked about her identity, she twisted her hands in a trademark clapping motion and said, ‘This is my identity.’
As the camera pans from the 110-year-old Boota who never got the sex change operation she craved for, to Ainee and Sonya, one gets a glimpse of the relationship of transsexuals to mainstream society in the past and now. Boota recalled the days when they were treated with more respect. She said that in the good old days when a male child was born people depended on the transsexuals for celebration. Nowadays, it is television and imported fabric that have become more important. In spite of changing times, all of them said that they earned enough to get by.
In a world defined by rigid guidelines, where one’s identity is either masculine or feminine, Gill has addressed the larger issue of love and belonging. Though content within their transsexual ‘family’, all of them expressed the desire for a family life of their own. ‘I wish I could find real love… but this cruel world will never let that happen,’ said Sonya. Produced with German collaboration and released in 2009, the 90-minute Chan di Chummi has music by Ustad Mubarik Ali and Muhammad Shehzad.
December 9, 2009 – IGLHRC
Updates from One Day, One Struggle: Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies
On November 9, 2009, a diverse group of nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and activists across the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia carried out “One Day, One Struggle” events to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights. Below are some of the campaign updates, including the national launch of a pioneering research on sexuality and rights; a panel and cultural show on what it means to be a hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh, a discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran, and a queer-straight alliance meeting in Pakistan.
Bangladesh: Pioneering research is being done on sexuality and rights in Bangladesh
The Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS (CGSH) at the James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) of BRAC University shared the findings of a trailblazing research project on sexuality and rights in urban Bangladesh. This exploratory study, the first of its kind, maps the manifold and changing understandings of sexuality, identity and rights among university students, factory workers, and sexual and gender minorities in Dhaka city. Dr. Dina Siddiqi, Sexuality Network Coordinator and Visiting Professor at the CGSH presented research findings on sexuality and rights in Dhaka. Other speakers were Dr. Sabina Faiz Rashid and Dr. Anwar Islam from the James P. Grant School of Public Health, Dr. Hilary Standing from the Realizing Rights Research Consortium, and Dr. Firdous Azim from the BRAC University Department of English and Humanities. A total of approximately 100 participants including journalists from the Bangladesh media, leaders of groups representing people of marginalized sexual orientations, independent researchers, anthropologists, public health professionals and NGO representatives were also present at the panel.
Bangladesh: Discussing the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran
Naripokkho organized a panel discussion entitled “Sexuality and Our Rights” which was moderated by Naripokkho member English professor Firdous Azim. Tamanna Khan, the president of Naripokkho and Shuchi Karim, a doctoral student at ISS in the Netherlands working on female sexuality in Bangladesh gave short presentations that were followed by an open discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran. Approximately 30 Naripokkho members participated in this event.
Bangladesh: Being hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh
Rangberong and Shochaton Shilpa Shangha organized a panel followed by a cultural show, both of which addressed specifically the hijra (transgender) community in Bangladesh. The panel hosted the speakers Ivan Ahmed Katha, the transgender president of the Shochetan Shilpa Shangha Association, Roksana Sultana, a journalist from BBC World, Nasrin Akhter Joli, the Deputy Director of the Hunger Project – Bangladesh and Mumtaz Begum, the former president of the Sex Workers’ Association. Police brutality and other problems faced by hijras on a daily basis were the main discussion topics of the panel. The cultural show afterwards included a musical performance specific to the hijra community that documented “why and how they became hijras, how this played havoc with their lives and how it is that they still love men.”
Indonesia: New Aceh law violates Islam and women’s right to bodily autonomy
Read Article HERE
December 13, 2009 – DNA India
Being gay and HIV+ in Taliban country
by Geetanjali Jhala / DNA
Mumbai: Islamabad-based Qasim Iqbal, a former Microsoft engineer, shares with The Mag his long and painful journey, from the day he first discovered he was HIV+, to his present life as a gay rights and Aids activist in Pakistan where he works under the fearful shadow of the violently homophobic Taliban.
I shouldn’t be smoking, I know. It’s dangerous as it is, but with my HIV+ status, the risks are worse. As an activist working for the rights of gays and HIV+ people, I travel a lot, and the schedule doesn’t leave me with much time to look after myself the way I’m supposed to. I do have my medicines regularly though. I’ve lived with HIV for almost 11 years now. And its not just HIV, I have full-blown AIDS.
I’m a Pakistani. And I know it’s probably easier to be gay and HIV+ in India. Indians, at least, don’t have a conservative and powerful (and armed) religious lobby to deal with. The Islamic culture in Pakistan makes it very difficult for people to accept homosexuality. As for HIV, why, it’s considered ‘a disease of sin’. Both gay persons and HIV+ people have to remain in the closet. I know I look much younger than I am, but I’m 38. I was born and brought up in the US. And it was in the US, ten years ago, in 1999, that I was diagnosed with the virus. It was a day that changed my life, forever.
I’d never really told my parents I was gay. I didn’t have to. I think they understood. My father even knew about my sexual promiscuity. It was he who insisted I take the test.
Those days, it took approximately five days to get the test result. But I already had a foreboding of what it would be. I can never forget those five agonising days of waiting. I wasn’t as nervous, as I’d resigned myself to the worst. But Abu [father] was a complete mess. At the time, my mother was on a holiday, visiting my grandfather in Pakistan. So Abu had no support… nothing to help him cope with the stress of waiting to find out whether his son will receive a death sentence or a reprieve.
I lived at the time in a one-bedroom apartment in Dallas, 15 minutes from my parents’ home. I worked at Microsoft. Every one of those five days, I would get back from work to find Abu waiting at my front door. He would sleep on the couch in my living room. Almost every night, I’d wake up to find him lying on the floor near my bed, sobbing.
Finally, when Judgement Day arrived, I went to the clinic with Abu. I was immediately whisked into a room where a psychologist was waiting for me. She started out by giving me a lecture on HIV and the different ways one can contract the virus. Then came a barrage of questions: Have I ever had a homosexual experience? Have I ever used intravenous drugs? Have I shared needles? Have I ever been in a relationship? Am I sexually active right now? Do I use condoms? Do I use water-based lubricants?
The Taste Of Tears
Confused, wary and anxious, I answered her questions as best I could. Then she left the room, and returned 20 minutes later with another doctor. This second doctor held my hand and looked at me with sorrow and pity…at that moment, I knew. I didn’t cry. But I remember feeling the tears on my cheeks.
Abu was waiting outside. He looked at me intently, trying to read my expression. I told him the results weren’t in yet, and pretended it was the clinic’s fault. I dropped him at his place and went home. Then I called a cousin who lived in Washington DC. I told her everything and asked her to tell Abu, since I didn’t have the courage to do it myself. After she broke the news to him over the phone, Abu came over. We talked. We decided not to tell my mother. We didn’t want to spoil her holiday in Pakistan.
Three weeks later, as I stepped into my parents’ house, my mother hugged me. Abu had told her as soon as she returned from Pakistan. She hugged me tight… she was sobbing like a baby who had just lost her doll. I was their only child.
Read article HERE
December 23, 2009 – Reuters
Pakistan’s transvestites to get distinct gender
by Zeeshan Haider
Islamabad (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered authorities on Wednesday to allow transvestites and eunuchs to identify themselves as a distinct gender as part of a move to ensure their rights, a lawyer said. Known by the term “hijra” in conservative Muslim Pakistan, transvestites, eunuchs and hermaphrodites are generally shunned by society.
They often live together in slum communities and survive by begging and dancing at carnivals and weddings. Some are also involved in prostitution. Iftikhar Chaudhry, chief justice of Pakistan, ordered the government to give national identity cards to members of the community showing their distinct gender and to take steps to ensure that they were not harassed.
“The government’s registration authority has been directed to include a separate column in national identity cards showing them as hijras,” Mohammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer for hijras told Reuters. “By doing so, they think they will get a distinct identity and it will help them get their rights.”
A hijra association welcomed Chaudhry’s order, saying it would ease their suffering. “It’s the first time in the 62-year history of Pakistan that such steps are being taken for our welfare,” the association’s president, who goes by the name Almas Bobby, told Reuters. “It’s a major step toward giving us respect and identity in society. We are slowly getting respect in society. Now people recognize that we are also human beings.”
Khaki said the court also ordered the government to evolve a mechanism to ensure that hijras are not harassed and also take steps to ensure their inheritance rights. Hijras are often denied places in schools or admittance to hospitals and landlords often refuse to rent or sell property to them. Their families often deny them their fair share of inherited property.
Hijras are both feared and pitied in Pakistan. They are feared for their supposed ability to put curses on people while they are pitied as they are widely viewed as the outcast children of Allah. The number of hijras in Pakistan is not known but community leaders estimate there are about 300,000 of them. In June, the Supreme Court ordered the government to set up a commission to conduct a census of hijras.