‘These people don’t even get to die in peace’
Srinagar: The ‘third gender’ is something which is not spoken about in Kashmir. Even if someone does it, it’s done for a laugh.
Things might take a ‘serious turn’ for the third-gender community as a division bench of the High Court has asked the government to respond to a public interest litigation which seeks protection of basic human rights of people who belong to the third gender.
The PIL was filed by a gender activist Aijaz Ahmed Bund.
He has been a gender activist since 2011 and has a new name for them- ‘victims of institutional injustice of the state’.
“They have been deprived of their fundamental human rights. There is no option of the third gender in any official form. It’s just male and female. This non-availability of the third gender option in any official form is how these people have been institutionally victimized. This explains a lot about our PIL,” Ahmed, who is a research scholar in the University of Kashmir, told Free Press Kashmir.
For the third-gender Community, life is a struggle from the very day they start feeling the ‘other way’. Ahmed feels that their life is a cycle of humiliation that starts from their birth and ends with their death.
“These people don’t even get to die in peace,” Ahmed said.
He added, “When there is a kid or adult in a family who ‘naturally’ doesn’t abide by the norms of the society, the family starts to monitor the way of walking, talking, dressing and what not. This is where their identity crisis starts.”
According to Ahmed family of a third-gender plays an important role.
“When they are forced to get dressed as a masculine man while feeling otherwise, they start to undergo psychological problems,” he said.
It’s the humiliation and the discrimination that makes them ineligible for white collar jobs and ‘eligible’ for ‘match-making.’
“To start with they are humiliated and harassed by the families and then by the schools they choose to go to. This becomes the reason why they become ineligible for white collar jobs thus choosing only ‘matchmaking’, ‘singing’ and ‘dancing’ at weddings as their profession,” Ahmed believes.
“School environment needs to be third-gender friendly,” he stressed.
The PIL that the High Court accepted asks for the basic acknowledgment of third-gender people by the government and then the society.
“Firstly they are not considered as humans by the society and then they are not considered as the rightful third gender by the government because when asked to prove that, these people don’t have identity cards. They should be given right to identity,” Ahmed explains.
He also calls out to the hypocrisy in the society.
“When a girl dresses like a boy it’s called empowerment but when the opposite happens and a boy dresses like a girl he is ridiculed and denounced. This shows how females are considered to be less superior than man or even degraded,” said Aijaz.
His own struggle began in the summer of 2011 when he asked for help from the Jammu and Kashmir Social Welfare Department.
I suggested for the extension of social welfare programs meant for the poor and destitute, to third-gender people as well. I had also proposed to constitute a welfare board to redress their grievances as well,” Ahmed recalled.
However, his proposal and suggestions didn’t move beyond official files.
“The department formulated an intervention plan for the community’s rehabilitation but the proposal didn’t move beyond official files,” Ahmed informed. That forced him to withdraw the case, as the department claimed helplessness unless things get approved from the cabinet.
Ahmed then approached the state human rights commission with the same plea.
The case again lingered on for next four years without any outcome. That is when Ahmed and his two other colleagues, Farah Ashraf and Anus Shafi Khan filed the PIL in the High Court.
The petition filed demanded:
- Housing, because they claim a majority of them have been disowned by their families.
- Shelter homes for trans-genders facing violence at the hands of families.
- Formal and non-formal educational programmers, setting up counseling centers
- A trans-gender welfare board and trans-gender police stations.
- Equal applicability of all laws and humane treatment.
- Building civil society support to curb harassment faced by trans-gender community; recognition of their rights to vote and forming associations.
Ahmed also pointed out that the third-gender people also have sexual rights but he believes that our society is not ready for that yet.
“They have a well defined sexuality thus requiring its rights as well. They too have their sexual lives and love relationships but to talk about that, our society is not ready yet,” he adds.
Ahmed doesn’t see himself in that position yet where he would ask for sexual rights but to begin with he took the initiative of giving trans-gender people what they legitimately and primarily deserve.
“They don’t even get houses on rent after they are thrown out of their rightful homes,” Ahmed lamented.
“They face problems in earning a livelihood, even when they die they face humiliation as family and the people deny them spaces in the graveyards,” He added.
Ahmed remembers one such horrible death in which trans-gender died and was eaten up by dogs!
“During last year’s winter, one elderly trans-gender died on the roadside whose body got partially burnt by a Kangri (earthen firepot) and the rest was feasted on by dogs,” said a visibly disturbed Ahmed.
The gender activist pointed out that old folk of the third gender who have no source of income and support from the family suffer the most.
Since the Court’s intervention, people have shown support. Ahmed and his comrades are hopeful, even though they believe that help came in late.
“Support followed after our work. Though it came in late but it sure did come,” said Ahmed.
He also informed that ridicule for what they were doing even came from the torch bearers of the law-the lawyers. So they are prepared for the worst too.
“Now we know what to do. If the High Court will not do anything about it then we will knock at the doors of the Supreme Court with the same plea,” Ahmed said.
‘Right to basic human rights’ is for everyone,” Ahmed concludes.