Rights revoked – 21 May 2023

A surprisingly progressive bill aimed at the protection of transgender people has become a victim of disinformation campaigns. The Federal Shariat Court has struck down Sections 2f, 3 and 7 of the Transgender Protection Act 2018, one of which allowed a transgender person to get themselves registered as per their self-perceived identity. Besides this clause, Section 7 – that allowed a transgender person the right to inheritance as per their gender declared on their ID card – also gets nullified. In simple terms, the verdict says that a person will remain with the gender he or she was assigned at birth. Many progressives see this verdict as a step backwards, and there are several reasons for this. When Pakistan had passed this law in 2018, it became one of the few countries that awarded laudable rights to a marginalized community. And now it seems that the country has once again pushed a vulnerable community into a state of helplessness.

It was in 2022 that the Transgender Protection Act 2018 had suddenly come into the radar of conservative political forces, leading to a sustained campaign against the law. The hate campaign against transgender persons was so strong that it resulted in the harassment and killing of several in the community. The original petition in the Federal Shariat Court in 2022 was moved by the JUI-F which was at the forefront of the campaign against the bill. It is expected that transgender persons and other human rights activists will fight back against the ruling.

Transgender people have been talking about their identity for years now. But any voice raised is silenced through baseless criticism and hate campaigns. The Pakistani state structure continues to reflect the culture of criminalization of transgender persons that became part of state practice during the colonial period. This is witnessed in the everyday police harassment of transgender persons, incidents of hospitals refusing to treat them and the denial of other social services provided by the state. This is in addition to the everyday social harassment that they face, including various forms of sexual harassment and assault. Transgender activists have continued to talk about the need to be accepted as normal members of society, as people who can perform any job and any other role in society. But the victories for transgender people have been far and few. One of these was the 2018 legislation for their rights. Now that too has fallen into controversy. The only hope for now remains a plea to the country’s judiciary.

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