Peshawar: Mussarat ran away from home when he was 15. From Bajaur in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, he came to Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
When he came to Peshawar he had nowhere to go but seek out his own kind – the transgender community in the city.
“I left my home because my parents did not accept me the way i was,” said Mussarat as he sat applying make-up, getting ready for a performance at a wedding in the old city. “I don’t miss my parents but i loved my aunt who would try and protect me every time my father beat me up.”
Mussarat sends his aunt money every now and then. He lies to her about his whereabouts: “I told her that i am working as a waiter at a hotel in Rawalpindi.”
As a child, Mussarat was molested time and again by boys and men in the village and he had to leave because of the “social embarrassment and hurdles” his presence created for his parents.
It came to a point when his father would beat him up for anything that went wrong in the house. “My father considered me a curse for the entire family,” he said. “Whenever something went wrong, my gather held me responsible.”
Now he lives with his community members in Gul Bahar in the old city where, said Mussarat, they were treated as pariahs by the people. Ostracized by the society and alienated by their physical and psychological attributes, the transgender community tend to live in a highly secluded, tightly knit groups where their interaction with the society is limited to begging, prostitution and performing at weddings.
According to social scientists, transgenders live in extreme poverty, lacking skills to make them fit for decent work because the society sees them as freaks – the parents don’t accept them, in schools they are humiliated by teachers and beaten up by students, and in the market place, they are unfit for a job because they could not acquire skills due to social alienation.
“The transgender souls are misfits, they are women trapped in a men’s body, born with male reproductive organ but behaving like women and this is the main reason why the society treats them as pariahs,” said Professor Jamil Ahmad Chitrali, who teaches anthropology at the University of Peshawar.
“When it is hard for Women to cope in our patriarchal society, how can they [transgender] will survive?” Chitrali teld News Lens Pakistan.
As i sat with Mussarat in her tiny room, Farooq alias Madhuri – named after the popular Bollywood star – stood looking in the mirror, adding final touches to her hair. The door of the room where I sat with them was open and I saw people in the street, stopping and staring at us.
I asked Khushboo, another transgender who shared the room with Farooq and Mussarat, if we could close the door. “What?! These people will break the door and you can’t do a thing about it,” came a tart response, intoned in the typical sing-song transgender manner.
Mussarat asked if i could do anything to help them get rid of the everyday abuses they faced from the society and then answered his own question before I could say anything.
“No, you can’t do a thing,” said Mussarat.
A bunch of people including young and old men stood as spectators before the open door, peering into the flat where the transgender lived. A man sitting in one of the rooms came out to ask about my identity. I said I was from media. He and I were the only men on the premises among men who looked like women, clad in women clothes, their faces masked with make-up.
“Are you listening to the voices coming from outside the gate?” asked Khushboo, drawing my attention to the suggestive remarks from the crowd intent on gatecrashing.”Every day we take abuse from the society, even here in our own flat.”
Khushboo is the head of the group that lives here in the flat – a guru whose authority every person in the house accepts as someone responsible for their well-being.
“Most of the time, goons get drunk and come here asking for sexual favors,” Khushboo told News Lens. “We can’t do anything as such people are influential and threaten us with dire consequences if we refuse.”
The anthropologist Jamil Chitrali said that the family of a transgender person does not accept him due to the shame associated with them. People give them bad name which leads to abuse, humiliation and hatred of them within their families.
There are two factors, said Chitrali, that lead to banishment of transgender people from the society: “One is the push factor from the society and the other is the pull factor from the transgender community. After alienation from the society, a transgender person is pulled by their community they go to live with and support through dancing and prostitution.”
When Mussarat left his home in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), he visited the transgender community where he came across a guru or head of the transgender community. He took up residence with him because he had no place to stay.
“I was young – only 15 – and beautiful and the guru used me to solicit sex,” said Mussarat. “He charged a customer Rs 1000 ($10) for a night of sex with me,” he said, his eyes welling up. “I was too young for sex at the time.”
Mussarat was taken to Jalalabad in Afghanistan four years ago by one of the “client” of the guru for prostitution.
He said he was happy now, living here with Khushboo who had taken him in as his daughter.
Kashish, another transgender in male clothes sitting next to Mussarat, said he was molested by men who had done forced sex with him, thrust bottles in his backside so hard they broke inside.
“I have been through a major surgery to remove glass shards from my rectum,” Kashish told news lens. “I want to have an operation to change sex, to remove the male organ because i want to be a woman. I am done with all the abuse men and the society piles at us.”
The transgender family is their own kind, hardly ever related by blood. Khushboo, for example, has taken in Mussarat as his daughter. “Look at him,” he pointed at Mussarat, “I have made him my daughter.”
The transgender use “him” and “her” interchangeably for themselves and to address one of their kind. The use of inverted appellation – using feminine references for `male’ persons (and vice versa) – is a common phenomenon among the transgenders.
“n this manner, gay men can at once appropriate and resist their abject positioning in the larger socio-sexual field, contributing, in the process, to a resistive rearticulation and creative reimagination of the performative construction of gender and sexuality,” said Mutti Bunzil in the research paper Inverted Appellation and Discursive Gender Insubordination.
“We have a mother we call guru, sisters and daughters but no husbands in our community,” Khushboo explained.“Our boyfriends – real male, not transgender – are like our husbands – they are responsible for their transgender partners with whom they can have consensual sex.”
“We have our own world without the males and females of yours,” he said.
Some social scientists are of the opinion that the family structure of transgender community challenge patriarchy but Jamil said it actually supplemented rather than challenged patriarchy. He argued that their so called family system was actually based on patriarchy where they made a guru – a male transgender as a opposed to a female transgender – their leader, responsible for their well-being.
“They basically challenge women because they term themselves as powerful as women,” said Jamil.
A man entered the room to hand over his national identity card to Khushboo who said they take cards from the customers due to security reasons whenever one of his chelas – or disciples like Mussarat – went out to perform at a function.
Given the environment of fear and insecurity in Peshawar, do the trangender feel safe? Khusboo said they were not threatened by militants nor had they been displaced by terrorism but their biggest concern was the attitude of the society and police towards them.
“Police ask for bribe when we come out at night,” Khusboo complained.
The governments of Pakistan have yet to provide equal rights to transgender but the community is striving for it. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a verdict terming transgender equal citizens of Pakistan.
“It took the government over 60 years to accept us as humans and that too only after the Supreme Court (SC) passed the order that we should be registered as khwaja saras,” Bindiya Rana, the president of the Gender Interactive Alliance who works for Transgender rights told the Herald, a monthly current affairs magazine, in 2011. In gender terms, Khwaja sara means the eunuch or the third sex.
Despite the Supreme Court verdict and directives to the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) to register transgender as a “Khwaja sara”, Peshawar’s transgender community has yet to get their Computerized National Identity Card(CNIC) issued by NADRA.
Khushboo said he had submitted forms to secure a CNIC a year back along with pictures but NADRA officials had yet to issue a CNIC. He had an identity card that said “male” in the sex column.
“There are 30 transgender residing here and not one of them have a special CNIC with a column saying Khwaja sara,” said Khushboo.