Along the peripheries of the lawns at Jinnah Hospital, everyone knows where Bindiya Rana resides. Among neighbours who mostly work as domestic helpers at the hospital, Rana has a modest home of her own. A vocal spokesperson of the transgender community in Sindh, she also works with the government’s social welfare department.
Rana leads me into her room; painted in warm hues of orange with flowers in translucent vases ornamenting the space around her, the room reflects her effeminate nature. A few seconds into the preliminary civil formalities, she is quick to pinpoint some of the misconceptions, which according to her, are doing the rounds on social media.
“I have talked to many people in my community, and this fatwa on marriage is troublesome for us,” says Rana. “We are not happy.” She refers to the fatwa recently issued by about 50 clerics of the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat. The document states that “it is permissible for a transgender person with male indications on his body to marry a transgender person with female indications on her body”.
Rana vehemently contests the point of ‘indications’. She gesticulates at herself to say, “Look at me, I look like a woman, most of our people dress as women, but that does not mean they are actually women.” In her bright red kameez, a printed chiffon dupatta and hair tied neatly in a chignon, she appears to be a woman. But Rana insists: “We are incomplete.” She says that her community firmly believes that a man marries to procreate children and as it is impossible for them to do so, there is no purpose in marrying.
In fact, she feels that the fatwa may lead to some of their community members being subjected into forced marriages by affluent, influential men who fancy their women. Rana also believes it will negatively impact the larger society’s perception of them as individuals who shower blessings on newly-weds and newborn — if now considered ‘marriage material’, people will be wary of them.
This school of thought, however, is something that the chairman of Tanzeem, Zia-ul-Haq Naqshbandi, disagrees with. Naqshbandi says that this ruling from Islamic scholars is to prevent any discrimination against Pakistan’s transgender community. “Three to four days prior to passing the fatwa, I was on a television show with three representatives of their community and I pledged on live television that I will advance the rights granted to the transgender community, and that is what we have done,” he asserts.
However, Naqshbandi emphasises that a wedding between two transgender individuals would be haram if one is neither a ‘man’ nor a ‘woman’. This, he says, can be proved by medical records provided to Nadra when registering for a marriage. “We live in a world of modern medical facilities and should make use of them,” he adds.
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that transgender individuals must be allowed to vote. A year later, the apex court ruled that transgender people have the right to inheritance and employment opportunities.
Naqshbandi adds that a transgender who in appearance is more like a ‘man’ should get a son’s right to inheritance, and those that are neither ‘men’ nor ‘women’ should get the equivalent of a daughter’s right to inheritance.
“The Supreme Court has given us reason for optimism by giving similar verdicts in our favour many times, but how many of those have been implemented?” questions Rana. “Ask the government how many of us inherited assets. How many of us were able to get ID cards made with no birth certificates to show.”
She says that Sindh has a population of about 16,000 transgender people, but the government never carried a census to determine their population nationwide. She asserts that, although the government also announced free education and health care, they still have to pay for their medicines at public hospitals. One of the court decision’s was that transgender individuals will be given a two per cent quota for jobs in the government based on their skills, but according to Rana that has not been adequately met either.
Rana appears to have a great deal of empathy for the people of her community. In her role as president of the Gender Interactive Alliance, she often expresses concerns that the state is falling short in implementing those rights they have already been legally given. As she talks her phone is buzzing incessantly, but she ignores it entirely. She smiles, pauses, and with a pensive look on her face reiterates that she respects the decision of the clerics but is unclear about what ‘indication of a woman’ means.
“I may look like a man one day, decide to look like a woman the next day, but who can change my soul? My soul tells me I’m a woman, but I cannot give birth. It is something impossible for me and every one in my community. Marriage is not for us. This is nothing for us to rejoice over. So focus on implementing the rights we already have legally but which fall short in materialising. Focus on our health care, education and jobs so you don’t see our people forced to work as sex workers to feed themselves.”