PAKISTAN: The Rocky Road to Acceptance

In a nation where homosexuality is shunned, journalists rise up to defend the rights and dignity of gay, lesbian and transgender people against verbal and sometimes physical assault from invasive television media.

Here’s the kicker: this nation is Pakistan.

The country is known for having the highest Muslim population in South Asia as well as the second lowest tolerance for homosexuality in the world. And yet, it’s also home to brave journalists who speak out against those in popular media who chastise transgenders in Pakistan.

Transgenders, or “hijra,” the Urdu word for “one who has left their tribe,” were stigmatized for years by news networks like Abb Takk and even the authorities to the point of sexual harassment and assault.

The most notable case occurred in 2009 in Taxila, where local police allegedly attacked and raped a group of transgender wedding dancers.

In the same year, Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khaki, a legal expert in Islamic law, championed the right for hijras to be recognized as a “third gender” in the Pakistan Supreme Court. By the end of the case, the unlikely hero was successful in his endeavor.

This was a major step toward granting hijras respect in Pakistani society.

“People don’t consider them as human beings. They don’t like to eat with them, drink with them or shake their hands,” Khaki said. “But they are full citizens of Pakistan like everyone else.”

Since the verdict, life has gotten better for hijras. It’s easier for them to  apply for jobs and campaign for political office. But the discrimination in popular media has not stopped.

On a show called “Khufia,” host Uzma Tahir barges into private homes with police bullying and humiliating hijras on live TV, badgering them to confess their “crime” of being a so-called deviant.

Writers for Pakistani national newspapers like Gul Bukhari of The Nation and Beena Sarwar of The News International condemn these shows and the networks for their indiscretion and ignorance.

With the power of the written word defending the dignity of hijras, a people who are certainly questionable within the context of Sharia Law, there may be hope that they can finally live in peace and coexistence with everyone else in their own nation.

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