On August 8, Pakistan Police arrested a transgender Qaiser Zada, a resident of Swabi, under controversial blasphemy law for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran in Abbottabad.
They were allegedly caught by locals near the Jinnah Bagh in Abbottabad city while burning a copy of the Quran and beaten by people and later handed over to the police.
The police registered FIR against the accused under Section 295-B and later produced him before the judicial magistrate, who remanded him for three days.
Transgender people, and transgender women,, in particular, face harassment, mistreatment and exclusion from society, from the public health care system, education system, employment and other institutions of government.
In Pakistan, transgender people and other marginalised minorities are ostracised by society and sometimes disowned by their families. Transgender women, in particular, live in groups for protection and survival. Due to widespread stigma and discrimination, many transgender women engage in sex work in extremely unsafe environments and circumstances.
Pakistan has been repeatedly criticised by the international community for not taking measures to protect its minority communities, despite Prime Minister Imran Khan vowing to protect them on numerous occasions.
According to the Pakistani advocacy group Centre for Social Justice, between 1987 and 2017, an estimated number of 1,549 people have been charged under the draconian blasphemy law; for comparison, before 1986, only 14 cases have been reported.
More than 70 cases of extrajudicial killings by vigilantes of those accused of blasphemy have taken place since the 1980s till the present day, the think tank stated.
On May 12, the 2020 report International Religious Freedom released by the US Department of State highlighted a downward spiral of religious expression in Pakistan, most notably in the form of blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranges up to the death.
“The worst downsides of the existence of the blasphemy law in Pakistan: even talking about those who talk about its misuse and are killed for that is done without a due process. Sift the truth from lies and propaganda,” notes writer Mehr Tarar.
Pakistan’s persecution of trans people comes at a time when the rights of the community are being talked about and upheld globally.
Experts note that the roots of the transgender rights movement are found in the beginning of the 20th-century world when the world realised that transgender people can play a positive role if given proper rights and opportunities. However, analysts note that that idea was only restricted to the developed countries where third world countries were still struggling to give rights to women.
Apart from third world countries, experts say those under the clutches of religious propaganda regimes are also reluctant to accept the rights of the transgender community.
Observers say Pakistan is one country that fits in both categories where women are still not given the rights which they deserve let alone the transgender.
Activists say that being transgender is still considered a crime in countries like Pakistan, where the law does provide protection to all citizens despite promising equal rights regardless of gender, religion and ethnicity. It has been observed over time that religion has been used to persecute the vulnerable, just to take revenge or due to some personnel enmity.
Meanwhile, observers note that poverty and inflation has forced many transgender people to beg and in worst cases to be sexually exploited just to get some money to buy food.
Circumstances like this could force the innocent members of this community in such a situation where they are usually accused of blasphemy just to cover up some cruelty or rape towards.
“It is imperative that a wide-ranging process and program of reformation is undertaken, where a transgender individual can become the head of state and head of government in Pakistan,” notes writer Sarmad Iqbal.
“The journey toward such reforms should begin with the election and introduction of transgender MPs in Pakistan’s parliament as well as the introduction of transgender senators in Pakistan’s Senate.”
Experts say the transgender persons’ plight is compounded by the Pakistani society, which is religiously intolerant and people become violent instantly over issues of blasphemy.
The blasphemy law in Pakistan was introduced through Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code during the dictatorial regime of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law carries an automatic death penalty for anyone convicted of blasphemy.