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Akhtar Balouch’s book explores hidden aspects of transgender community in Pakistan

Academic and journalist Akhtar Hussain Balouch in the third edition of his book ‘Teesri Jins’ (Third Gender) provides an understanding of various aspects of the life of the transgender community in Pakistan.

Discrimination on the basis of gender is a global issue and the transgender community is one of the most discriminated and marginalised segments in Pakistan. The 365-page book, published by the Ilm-o-Adab Publishers, Karachi, is an effort by Balouch to help the readers understand

the language transgender persons use in their daily life communication and how that depicts their gender identity.

The book contains 36 pieces that touch on different subjects related to the transgender community, including their norms, values, rituals and traditions. They vary from historical background of the community in the Subcontinent, particularly in Sindh, to their daily life, religion and media interaction.

Most of the book contains interviews of transgender persons, particularly their leaders, which shed light on the challenges and problems they face in their daily lives, including their relationships with their families, the result of leaving homes, replacement of fathers with gurus, performing traditional rituals for income, wedding and dance functions, funerals, sexual violence and rape culture.

Before the colonialization of the Subcontinent, the transgender community enjoyed a highly respected status in Mughal courts and they were named ‘Khwaja Siras’, the book says. They occupied respected posts as protectors of the harem and were tasked with keeping an eye on women of the rulers.

However, with the arrival of the British colonisers, the Khwaja Siras were dismissed from their positions of privilege because Europe was suffering from gender binary at that time, the book says. In 1871, the British colonisers passed a bill titled ‘Criminal Tribes Act of 1871’, which was mainly aimed at suppressing dangerous tribes and Khwaja Siras. These intolerant rulings and biased attitudes towards the community are apparent even today in society.

The book also discusses ‘Farsi Chandh’, also known as “Hijra Farsi” or “Farsi Kalaam ‘ in the Subcontinent, a secret language of the transgender community, in detail and explains the use of this peculiar language in the daily lives of the transgender persons in Pakistan. The indigenous language is spoken by the members of the Hijra subculture throughout South Asia.

Many transgender activists, however, have expressed their reservations about exposing their language to the general public.

The author also terms the decision of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to include a third gender category for transgender individuals in the National Identity Cards a groundbreaking and revolutionary move.

He also lauds Parliament of the country for passing the wide-ranging Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act as the new law accords transgender citizens the right to self-identify.

For the first time in the country’s history, the transgender people were counted in the census after the Lahore High Court ordered the federal government to include the community in the process.

The country’s total population of the transgender persons was reported to be 10,418 in the sixth Popu­lation and Housing Census held in 2017 is 10,418. However, transgender rights activists rejected the statistics and said that their population was intentionally underreported.

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