Saturday, 25 July 2009

Transvestites, Prime Ministers, Religious Scholars and Pakistan’s Future

In Pakistan's 'Lost Decade' during the years 1988-1999, the country saw four general elections and four successive civilian governments. People's patience with civilian governments' was running so thin by the time General Musharraf took over in the October 1999 coup that there was dancing in the streets to celebrate the military takeover.

Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, and Nawaz Sharif, who headed his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, played musical chairs with the Prime Minister's seat until the music finally stopped in 1999.

In 1993, after both Benazir Bhutto (1988-1990) and Nawaz Sharif (1990-1993) had taken their turns at the helm of affairs, a hijra (a person of 'cross gender' and generally referred to as a transvestite in the subcontinent) cheekily ran for Prime Minister with the slogan along the lines, 'We've tried a woman and she failed. We've tried a man and he's failed so now it's our turn!'

Her campaign never gathered enough steam to win a seat and the ambitious hijra became another in the long line of (aspiring) Pakistani politicians who tried to reform the nation but gave up before even getting started.

Perhaps it was at that moment that the seeds of the legally inspired Great Transvestite Revolution of 2009 were planted.

Almost two decades later, in a judgement earlier this month the Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered that (transvestites) as citizens of Pakistan '... enjoy the same protection guaranteed under Article four (rights of individuals to be dealt with in accordance of law) and Article nine (security of person) of the Constitution.'

On a practical note, the decree paves the way for members of the impoverished community to be eligible for all income support programs offered by the federal and provincial governments'. Equally important, however, is the acceptance of civic responsibility by a system which until recently was only too happy to shy away from any controversy in the face of religious bigotry.

Ironically, the court's ruling came in response to a petition filed by an Islamic jurist, Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who took up the cause after hearing about the tragic plight of the hijra community.

International media please take note, all cannot be wrong in a nation where Islamic jurisprudence and civil law combine to address a pressing civil and human rights issue in a most satisfactory manner.

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