Karachi, the city of lights is known to accommodate everyone regardless of their caste, colour or creed. It camouflages all that is not appealing to the eye and shelters many that seek refuge in its arms. From the hubbub of the day to the mysterious calm of the night, the city truly never sleeps and neither do its residents.
The day and night life in the city is in stark contrast to each other, with day being the centre of business activity and night a witness to social crimes and taboos that are hushed-up for the supposed benefit of the society.
During such a night I met Rahat*, a transvestite, who stands outside one of the most famous automobile showrooms at Clifton and waits for his client everyday. Dressed and dolled up like a woman, it is difficult to assess his real self on the surface. However, the story of his life and struggle is an open question mark to our double standards and so-called ethical norms.
“I am an educated man and I was not born this way. I worked as a salesman for three years but then I was sacked. I looked for a job for 10 months and then I met a group of people who offered me to work as a transvestite. Initially, I was appalled at the offer; however, with several mouths to feed at home my options were limited,” said Rahat.
“I am a man and during the day I stay that way but as soon as the sun sets, I disguise myself as a transvestite and wait for scavengers to feed on me so that I can feed my family. I can transform myself into a gigolo, dancer, prostitute and many other things which are considered ‘unacceptable’ by the same set of people in the society who ironically happen to be my clients,” added Rahat.
Infuriated by the hypocrisy of our society and saddened by the depth of his words, I kept fumbling with questions; is it indeed people like us who have played a vital role in leading the Rahats of Pakistan to live such ignoble lives? Are they themselves responsible in opting for the easy way out? Is our system the main culprit?
On being asked if he has accepted this way of life, Rahat responded with tears glistening in his eyes, “To be honest no one can accept this life. It is horrible. One dies a little every day but one has to sacrifice for their families. I would rather sell my body than have my sisters go out and do the same.”
Not very far away from Clifton is Khadda Market where I met another transvestite, who poses to be one, however, is not into prostitution and only begs for food and money.
“The obvious question is why become an impostor than to work legitimately as a domestic servant or labourer? The answer is that the wage one gets after working all day long does not suffice to educate and feed four children,” he said on condition of anonymity.
The fact that many transvestites that we see on the streets are impostors is a scary thought; however, it also leads me to believe that there must be a multiple reasons why this profession is ‘booming’. Poverty and lack of sustainable livelihood can evidently be attributed to the thriving practice. Lack of governance and inability of the government to cater to the massive population boom by formulating policies along the lines of a welfare state also seem to play an important role. However, the psychological needs and human frustrations also account for the existence of this trade.
Almas Bobby, President of she-male Foundation Pakistan said, “If you ask me I am going to say that these men who pretend to be eunuchs tarnish our image the most. Most of them are sexually frustrated hence get into prostitution, whereas many amongst them are involved in crimes. They get picked up by seths and later on rob them. The police knows everything; they are bribed to let such charlatans operate. It’s a criminal business which needs to be stopped. Some of them have gone as far as obtaining National Identity Cards as eunuchs because there is no check and balance to asses who is genuine and who is not.”
“The police only troubles genuine eunuchs because they cannot afford to keep them entertained and happy,” said Bobby.
Talking to so many eunuchs and men, who portrayed themselves as one, also reaffirmed my hypothesis that we all possess ill-will for each other. One eunuch blaming another for their tarnished image and the other blaming the entire human race for the evils existing in the society only boils down to the fact that we all look for scapegoats. People in authoritative positions showed no concern about saving these young minds and bodies from exploitation either. Instead of rectifying our own mistakes and channeling our energies in creating a better society, we all choose the easy way out by blaming it all onto an individual, a group, the system, lack of opportunities and the government.
Whether the men in question are a part of a bigger crime syndicate or they get into this trade to make easy money, I refuse to believe that all of them get into this business out of their own freewill. It is impossible to believe that someone in their right mind would opt for a profession which does not only turn them into social pariahs but also jeopardises their well being. Economic and socio-cultural pressures motivate naïve boys to adopt a way of life which is tabooed in many societies. Most of the boys start off during their teen years, which speaks volumes about their irrational decision powers to choose a mode of life from which there is simply no turning back.
Instead of blaming them, how about for once, we ask ourselves whether we play a positive role in reforming the pillars of our society and look for ways in which we can positively contribute towards the welfare of human rights in the country. Unfortunately, what most of us fail to understand is that nothing can supersede the protection of human rights Societal and cultural values take a backseat when human rights are violated so blatantly. Whether one approves of such practices or not is a debatable point, however, the issue that these young minds and bodies are to be protected is crystal clear.
Every individual in his/her own capacity should take measures to respect human rights. Law enforcement agencies, common citizens, political groups and human rights agencies should unanimously work towards in understanding the problem and counseling these individuals who had no one to consult. The mafia which operates behind seducing young boys to ‘act’ as transvestites for their own vested interest should be brought to justice.
Unless we all take individual steps to overcome these issues, the status quo will not change and neither will our future.
*Name changed to protect identity.
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com