Throughout the conflicts of the Kashmir Valley, the transgender community has been struggling for existence as well as for their authentic identity. Most are abandoned by families and shamed by society. Recognized by the Supreme Court as a ‘third gender’, that has forced many to withdraw from public life, making their existence a virtual social death.¹
They have been shunned through the history of Jammu and Kashmir, yet there is a reach history according to activists, as matchmakers and those able to bestow blessings. These have been their only form of income in present-day Kashmir, and that has now come under threat. Hopefully things will change for the better, as the Jammu and Kashmir high court has finally taken notice of an LGBT activist and scholar from Kashmir University, Aijaz Ahmad Bund, who has been continuing a seven year struggle, away from the media glare, fighting for the rights of transgender people.
On August 11, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed and Justice Ali Mohammad Magrey directed the government to respond to a PIL filed by Bund, seeking the protection of rights of transgender people; their social, political and economic inclusion in society and reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. Supporting Bund in this fight is his colleague Farah Ashraf, who is also a scholar at the university’s social welfare department and a post-graduate student, Enus Shafi Khan.
There is no credible data about transgender people in Jammu and Kashmir as in most countries around the world. The first-ever census of rural India in 2015,² put their number at 477, though only 97 transgender people had registered themselves with the Election Commission a year earlier. These figures have however been contradicted by transgender people and activists.
“The government, the people, everybody wants us to perish from the face of the earth, so why should they be concerned about us?” said Dazy Jan, who identifies herself as a trans-woman, from uptown Srinagar.
She belongs to a group of close friends, all transgender, and have been matchmaking for the last five-seven years to make a living.
Dazy considers herself “lucky” for not having been thrown out of the house by her family.
“My parents always shout at me. They question my sense of dressing and my passion for keeping long hair and wearing loud makeup. They even beat me in the past but now I have got used to all the criticism,” she says softly.
However, there are many like 27-year-old Razia, who after facing constant harassment from family, fled home never to return again. She has been living with her friend Neelofar, who is also trans, in a rented room in Srinagar for the last three years.
In his 2013 research paper titled, Other Sex: A Study on Problems of Transgender Women of District Srinagar for the International Journal of Scientific Research, Bund, was based on interviews with a 100 transgender people, and talks about the harassment that we face; including verbal abuse, assault, bullying, sexual violence and social restrictions. This has forced some people of the community to migrate and avoid participation in social institutions like schools, attend weddings and festivals and go to places of worship.
Most local transgender people have been matchmakers ,a traditional profession, apart from singing and dancing at weddings in Kashmir, but now they are losing their only source of income to disk jockeys, who are replacing them at weddings and other functions.
The financial instability has added to their worries. While their monthly income varies from Rs 6000 to Rs 20,000, many of them, mostly the older transgender people with no source of income, struggle to make ends meet.
Last winter, Khan worked on a project about the economic and social challenges faced by the community in Jammu and Kashmir, for which he spoke to a number of transgender people from across the Kashmir. Most of those he spoke too, were between the ages of 60-70 years, and they had been thrown out of their homes when they were eight or ten years old.
“The worst plight is of the old, who are all alone. I met one transgender person in her early 70s, who lives in a single makeshift mudroom at Dalgate (Srinagar). She doesn’t earn now and largely depends on help from neighbors to sustain herself,” Khan said, adding that the denial of the property rights to transgender people by their families hits them the most when they are old.
“Their life from birth to death is full of abuse, humiliation discrimination and unfortunately there is no historical account of them as if they didn’t exist,” said Khan. He added that Islam too recognizes transgender people by the name ‘mukhanathun’ in Arabic, which means ‘men who resemble women’,
“Who are we then to deny them their rights?”
It is not only physical or sexual violence that trans people face day-in and day-out, the years of harassment has led to several psychological disorders, like depression, suicidal tendencies, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Bund’s study found.
According to renowned psychiatrist Dr. Arshad Hussain, the community’s continuing struggle for survival in Jammu and Kashmir has resulted in mental health issues for them.
“They are stigmatized in our culture with hugely defined roles assigned to two genders making them misfits not only in the larger society but also within families,” Hussain said.
There is hope. For the first time, Kashmir University’s social science department has approved a thesis study on the transgender community. This is part of many important steps at the academic level, in establishing the identity of transgender people.
“It will help to bring the plight of transgender community to the forefront. It is important also because it is the first initiative, from the highest seat of learning in the country,” said Khan, hoping that this will go a long way in addressing the issues of the community.
Bund added: “Ours is an inclusive movement. We have started with transgender people because they are the one of the most vulnerable and visible victims in the spectrum.”
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- The Third Gender throughout history
- Report on the first census of Trans people in India
- Research by Aijaz Ahmad Bund; Other Sex: A Study on Problems of Transgender women of District Srinagar .pdf