Pakistan’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered the government on Wednesday to allow transvestites and eunuchs to identify themselves as a distinct gender as part of a move to ensure their rights.
While hearing the case, the Chief Justice also advised the authorities to hire the services of the eunuchs to recover monies (Rs193 billion) loans from the bank loan defaulters – a practice, he said, already being followed in India!
Known by the term “Hijra” in Pakistan as well as in India and Bangladesh, transvestites, eunuchs and hermaphrodites are generally shunned by society nor do they enjoy any rights – legal, political human or even religious.
They often live together in slum communities and survive by begging and dancing at carnivals and weddings. Some are also involved in prostitution.
CJ Iftikhar ordered the authorities to issue national identity cards to members of the community showing their distinct gender and to take steps to ensure that they were not harassed.
“The government’s registration authority has been directed to include a separate column in national identity cards showing them as hijras,” Mohammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer for hijras told Reuters.
“By doing so, they think they will get a distinct identity and it will help them get their rights.”
A Hijra association welcomed Chaudhry’s order, saying it would ease their suffering. “It’s the first time in the 62-year history of Pakistan that such steps are being taken for our welfare” the association’s president, who goes by the name, Almas Bobby, told Reuters. “It’s a major step toward giving us respect and identity in society. We are slowly getting respect in society. Now people recognize that we are also human beings”.
Khaki said the court also ordered the government to envolve mechanism to ensure that Hijras are not harassed and also take steps to ensure their inheritance rights.
Hijras are often denied places in schools or admittance to hospitals and landlord often refuse to rent or sell property to them. Their families often deny their fair share of inherited property. Hijras are both feared and pitied in Pakistan. They are feared for their supposed ability to put curses on people while they are pitied as they are widely viewed as the outcast children of Allah.
The number of Hijras in Pakistan is not known but community leaders estimate there are about 300,000 of them. In June, the Supreme Court ordered the government to set up a commission to conduct a census of Hijras.
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