While India celebrates partial strikedown of Section 377, the queer community in Pakistan continues to suffer

On September 8, a transgender person in Pakistan succumbed to burn wounds, after they were set on fire allegedly by four people attempting to sexually assault them.

 |  3-minute read |   10-09-2018
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September 6 was a huge day for Indian civil rights.

The Supreme Court partially struck down the draconian Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — “unnatural sex” is no longer criminal, as long as it is consensual. A law that has been systematically used to harass and hound homosexual folk in India can no longer be misused for the same. But while there are celebrations in India, the country’s neighbour seems to be moving in an opposite direction.

Barely two days after the Supreme Court judgment, on September 8, a transgender person in Pakistan succumbed to burn wounds after they were set on fire allegedly by the four people attempting to sexually assault them. Having suffered more than 80 per cent burn injuries, the victim died while being taken to a hospital in Lahore.

According to the police, four men took the victim to a deserted place near a cab station in Sahiwal district, around 250km from Lahore, and tried to sexually assault him. Upon being shown resistance, the four set the victim on fire.

Such an incident in Pakistan is hardly an aberration, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.

paki-trans_091018054750.jpgPhoto: Reuters

According to a Human Rights Watch report dating May 2018, there have been at least 57 cases of violence against trans folk that have resulted in fatalities in the province since 2015. And these transgressions are almost always horrifyingly similar. Another HRW report from 2016 tells the tale of how, after assailants shot a transgender woman three times in the abdomen when she resisted abduction and rape, the district hospital refused to admit her, saying they only had male and female wards.

She died, waiting for treatment.

According to Equaldex, a collaborative knowledge base for the LGBTQ+ movement that crowdsources law and information related to LGBTQ+ rights, while trans status is recognised in the country, Pakistan ranks more than poorly on all other facets of civil liberties for queer folk. Homosexuality, for example, in Pakistan is illegal and can lead to imprisonment between two and 10 years — if not for life — and a fine.

Pakistan recently passed a law guaranteeing transgender rights — the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act bans discrimination against transgender people by employers and business owners as well as outlawing harassment in public places or at home — and it has faced severe backlash and objections from a lot of groups. Senator Naeema Kishwer of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam- Fazal group (JUI-F), for example, recommended referring this Bill to the standing committee and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for a detailed review, alleging “un-Islamic clauses”.

In fact, according to a recent Reuters report, “no transgender people were allowed to vote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — one of Pakistan’s four provinces where there was a spate of transgender attacks in 2016 — because their identity cards did not match the gender they presented as.”

“Pakistan is one of the most homophobic countries in the world,” wrote Alexander Abad-Santos for The Atlantic in 2013, adding that: “Karachi — the nation's biggest city, at nearly 24 million people — [is] a hotbed of gay sex, even if actually maintaining a gay lifestyle is still incredibly difficult.” In the same year, the Pew Research Centre found that Pakistan was simultaneously one of the most intolerant countries in the world for gay people — while at the same time being one of the world leaders in searching for gay porn.

This dichotomy begs a lot of questions and requires a closer look at how much repressive laws and societal structures affect the marginalised queer community in Pakistan.

The partial strike-down of Section 377 in India resulted in open celebration from many journalists and activists in Pakistan — but it is an empty celebration. For the queer community in Pakistan, life has not changed for the better.

And it continues to deteriorate.

Also read: Section 377 verdict: Legally safe, socially targetted, Kashmir's LGBTQ face a huge challenge of acceptance

Writer

Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

The author is a culture writer who likes talking about the internet, memes, privacy and all things pop culture.

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