Third Gender and Their Status in Pakistan

Despite of its obsessive caveats, globalization still secures some gratitude from developing countries like Pakistan. Gratitude for stimulating warfare against traditional stigmatization attached with physical and intellectual disability. Numerous welfare programs have been launched to help handicaps to earn their due rights in society. Yet a class is not only denied of its due veneration but also of its disability. By that I refer to hermaphrodites — hijras, they are being called in Pakistan.

Before collating third gender issues in Pakistan, let us first response to this query: ” Should hijras be regarded as handicaps and disable like deaf, dump, blind, retarded and crippled?”

“They should, if they fulfill definitional requirement.” This can be the abrupt reply from those who believe in rules more than humanity. But to our contentment lets augment a brief piece of definition.

Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) defines disability as follows: “Disability is a functional limitation within the individual caused by physical, intellectual, emotional, or sensory impairments”. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons defines handicap as follows: “Handicap is … a function of the relationship between disabled persons and their environment. It occurs when they encounter cultural, physical or social barriers, which prevent their access to the various systems of society that are available to other citizens. Thus, handicap is the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the life of the community on an equal level with others”.

Individuals who are born with sexual deformity are known as hijras — doing completely with the definition of disability considering sexual deformity a physical irregularity. Such persons deviate from normative beliefs about gender/sex thus are repelled to live in marginalized communities — falling under the category of handicap too as they are prevented to live normal life in society.

You still don’t agree? You are not obliged to. I know, beliefs fabricated over centuries cannot be ragged out by providing a shred of definition. Take your time and leave this question unanswered. Don’t consider them disable. Don’t render them distinguished rights in turn. But can you help yourself in disqualifying them for human rights? Universal declaration on human rights clearly holds that all human beings irrespective of gender (among others such as, race, caste, creed etc) are entitled to human rights. Yet they have been denied for that particular reason since centuries. And what next centuries will fetch for them is still incredulous.

Hijras of Pakistan have their history rooted back in Mughal reign as Khawjasaras. Khawjasaras were eunuchs or hermaphrodites that were employed by Mughal rulers as care takers of their harems. They were potent in courts, state affairs and as confidantes of rulers. Their status deteriorated with the devastation of princely rulers and finally fettered to begging. By then the hijras are considered social outcasts, existing in a strange, no man’s land.

Rights of hijras in Pakistan are confined to vote/contest in elections. Otherwise they are victims of extreme social ostracism. They are denied in families. They are neither acceptable at work places nor they are allotted any quota in employment. They are also deprived of opportunities to take education because of people’s attitude towards them. More so they are also denied health and psychological/ psychotherapeutic assistance.

Most Pakistani cities have sizable hijras communities, divided into clan groups living mostly in ghettos and officiated over by a leader or guru. These communities are generally known as Chellas. Hijras, in past, earned their living by dancing at carnivals, weddings and births. However, with the outgrowth of novel means of celebrations, sex work and begging remain the only available occupational choices for the hijras community.

The labor and payment arrangements of hijras are different in different cities. As ILO reported that in the Punjab, all the money earned is divided into three shares. The guru gets 50 percent; 25 percent goes for household expenses and the remaining 25 percent are equally divided among all group members. However, in Sindh chellas have to turn over their full day’s earnings to their guru who keeps 75 percent and returns 25 percent to the chella. Household expenses are born collectively. Non-resident chellas are supposed to come to their guru’s home to pay a fixed amount and receive commodities on a monthly basis.

Beside this, educated english speaking class of eunuch is enlarging in Pakistan. They do not face this treatment because of their social and economic status in the society. They become fashion designers, interior decorators, hair stylists’ etc.

Are they only unjust social laws that like spider’s webs only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily break through them? Or the picture depicted above has an other face too? It is true that human psychology is a victim to the hegemony of heterosexual society contrived by culture and society. But it is also sarcastic to blame whole society wrong in its demeanor against hijras. They have their part in fabricating this attitude toward themselves.

As most of people do not considered them hijras by birth. They believe that they are either men behaving like women (cross-dressers) or they are homosexual. No doubt, it is true. Zafar (2004)1 corroborated that the number of those born with sexual deformity in Hijra community is as low as 1%. Both homosexuals and cross-dressers are cursed down upon in Islam. As it is difficult to isolate a genuine hijra from converted one, people use to curse and look down upon whole hijra community. Moreover sex work and certain behavioral patterns such as sundering jokes, using disgusting language and throwing vulgar gesticulations, persuade aggravation resulting in people harboring negative attitude towards them.

Reasons for becoming hijra or joining hijra community are varied. It is heeded that hijras earn livelihood relatively easily. Desperate and unemployed youth is attracted to hijra community to earn this easy money. Secondly, ignorance toward psychological healing of problems in most of the low class families led their children to take shelter in the so-called safe haven of hijra community. Selling of children to hijra community due to poverty is yet another important reason for becoming hijra.

Reasons are obvious; solutions are obvious too. First of all, parents should be very careful about the children showing deviant behavior. If a boy behaves in girlish manner, he should not be encouraged. Rather, should be taken to psychiatrist immediately for necessary treatment. Secondly, parents should have an active eye on the activities of their children reaching the age of adolescence. They should check the company their children keep. Government should more actively approach to homosexuals and develop public awareness program to handle the issue. At the end, there should be complete record of born hijras on district level. So that these hijras can either be provided financial help publicly to restrain them from falling in socially unacceptable activities or assigned them quota in employment.


22 thoughts on “Third Gender and Their Status in Pakistan”

  1. i m doing a survey on thirg gender nd no doubt the knowledge the common people has about them is too little to see the whole pic!!!
    thy r neithr too innocent nor too harsh nd rude!
    v hv to learn wt exactly id third gendr nd try to minimize thr negative points wt our positive behaviour.

  2. al most same words and same history and just about same comments are founding about them. i am doing research on the socio-economic conditions of professiona;l eunuchs of my city.. before chosing this topic my views and comments were different for them. but at this stage of of my thesis work my comments going to change about them. and may these will be more change after getting the complete findings of my theseis.
    but i want to share one thing that they are not as innocent as we assume hem.

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