Hijras Officially Recognized in Pakistan; and a Thought about India’s “E” Gender Designation

Amidst all the high-level news about terrorism, the internal war in Swat Valley, and various military/foreign-policy questions, other topics in the news sometimes get overlooked.

To wit, Basim Usmani has an informative column up at Comment is Free on a recent ruling by Pakistan’s recently re-constituted Supreme Court, regarding Hijras:

Pakistan’s supreme court recently ruled that all hijras, the Urdu catch-all term for its transvestite, transgender and eunuch community, will be registered by the government as part of a survey that aims to integrate them further into society. The ruling followed a petition by Islamic jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who said the purpose was to “save them from a life of shame”.

Khaki’s petition was prompted by a police raid on a hijra colony in Taxila, an ancient city filled with some of the oldest Buddhist ruins in Pakistan. Two of the three judges on the bench that ruled in favour if the hijra petition, chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry, were under house arrest for the better part of the past three years. This, coupled with the clobbering the police gave the lawyers during their demonstrations against the suspension of the judiciary in 2007, makes it easy to regard the hijra ruling as being directed against the police. (link)

The usual qualifications apply — this ruling is far from a panacea for the Hijra community. Still, one interesting side-note Basim mentions is the fact, new to me, that Hijras in India recently gained the right to officially note their gender as “E” on government forms and passports, and while running for public office:

The move to recognise hijras has perhaps been part of a spillover from India’s efforts to recognise its own hijras following a stunt last April when three hijras applied to run for office to raise awareness about the “third sex issue”. As a result, hijras can now give their gender as “E” for eunuch on their passports and government forms.

Again, the “E” designation (for “Eunuch”) only applies in India (see this for an explanation of how and why the designation emerged).

It’s intriguing to me that until just a couple of weeks ago, homosexuality was a crime under Section 377 in India; meanwhile transgendered individuals had, for at least a short while before that old law was overturned, a level of official recognition that few other countries could match. The disparity is of course understandable — Hijras are an endemic part of South Asian culture, while the concept of homosexuality is only recently gaining visibility. Still: does anyone know whether transgender or intergender individuals in any western countries have the equivalent of an “E” (or better, “T”) designation?

6 thoughts on “Hijras Officially Recognized in Pakistan; and a Thought about India’s “E” Gender Designation

  1. Speaking non-encyclopedically, any legal ferment on this issue that I’ve heard of in the West has been in terms of the right to switch one’s official records (e.g., birth certificate) from one’s sex at birth to the other sex, rather than towards the creation of a third (or, indeed, nth) category.

  2. The concept of “transexual” in the West still fits in, as rob notes, with the Western two-sex binary. The belief is that one is really a different gender from one’s biological one and sex change surgery will fix that problem. However, hijras don’t believe that they are women trapped in men’s bodies and their castration ceremony doesn’t make them into women but into hijras (see Serena Nanda’s “Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India”)

    Anyway, this is a great victory for Pakistani hijras. As citizens of the state, they are entitled to all the same social services that “normal” people are entitled too. It’s just societal prejudice that keeps them from being educated and working in fields other than prostitution.

    I also believe that there would possibly be less hijras if Pakistani society accepted the idea of men being attracted to other men while still retaining their masculinity or masculine identification. Of course homosexuality occurs, and certain social classes (ie. not the repressed middle classes) really don’t think much of it as long as it is not found out by others, but the hijra role is still one of the few societally accepted ways of being sexually deviant.

  3. All this from a nation which is currently persecuting gay and married trans people…. and that know little about LGBT dignity and freedoms… So what can we learn from this?

    My analysis is that “E” for Eunuch on passports in no better than the international gold standard for government issued ambiguous ID: for example, a female name and picture, with the designation of M for sex. It still perpetuates the notion that we are a third gender, and singles us out to be discriminated against, no different than creating a category for black people to sit in a different area of the bus, or to drink out of a different fountain. It states our human rights are “third class”, not just third gendered. In many ways this is no different than being forced to wear a pink triangle on our shoulders in the Third Reich, and forcing us to declare that our genders are not to be taken seriously. My own way of proving this, is to state that i myself do not live as a third gender, and that wherever i am forced to declare it, I do so at great peril to my life.

    To speak bluntly, if our human rights are to be taken seriously we need to be understood as being no different and equal to everyone else. Thus you don’t hand out third gender, third class status to a biological female who is living as a man, nor more than you would feel the need to print “negro” on someone’s passport.

    Non-categorizing ID, on the other hand, as argued by transgender activists such as Leslie Feinberg, on the other hand, also creates problems, because it does nothing to legitimize our genders internationally. For example, if I were arrested in some foreign country, Canada would hopefully maintain my gender status, and i would be sent to the appropriate jail. But if my gender were removed from all goverment ID, than my government would not have to verify my gender, and I would therefore not have a country that would dignify and defend my person. Otherwise mere prejudice and imprisonment in this manner, and I’d probably ask the prison guards to beat me to death… And all I’d need were some border-guards to question my gender, before they locked me up for this to happen in the first place…

    Thus I argue that we need to keep our M and F categories, while maintaining a healthy diversity and spectrum of lives within a very loose framework. It is in this manner, that I believe transgender activists and political leaders need to educate themselves.

    Additionally, I don’t believe that the international security world is ready to remove the M and F labels on passports in any jurisdiction, and that legally its a mine-field that’s impossible feat in any court of law.

    To be sure, the current gold standard for internationally recognized ambiguous ID, today does nothing more than systematically marginalize transgender people’s lives. It not only identifies us as third gender, third class global citizens, but it robs us of our opportunities to seek and find equal employment, housing, education, health care, and shelter whenever we are forced to declare our person legally. It forces us into underground economies, such as prostitution, drug dealing, and construction; as we live lives not much different than illegal refugees – and often with much less support networks.

    Transgender people are endemically exposed to criminalization and incarcerations as it is. The younger one transitions the greater the odds for homelessness and criminalization.

    Furthermore, surgeries or the lack of them, are currently being used by the global community to legitimize or disqualify transgender minorities human rights. Surgeries which are used to qualify and disqualify other people’s human rights are nothing more than heterosexist and eugenic at best, while most transgender populations never receive them, remain contented without them, and/or have no way of acquiring them. When any society fails to accept another person’s gender, merely because of their surgical status, this is no better than in some Islamic countries, where many woman are subject to female genital mutilation, in order to become privileged as woman socioeconomically.

    Transgender people also need to have their human rights intact if they are to ever begin to explore their bodies, genders, and sexualities, adequately before any surgery is acquired. Yet too many of us are forced into acquiring surgeries before we even begin to experience life non-prejudiced, as we are denied too many human rights in the process. We can be completely “passable” (note: passing is a fascist requirement, as it is no different than asking a black person to speak proper English) and our ambiguous ID alone will weed us out.

    Transgender human rights is one of the last, unexplored areas of human dignities and freedoms amongst all nations around the globe to be chartered. Too much has to be done and faught for, in order for things to change for the better. It is one of one of the last frontiers in human rights to be pondered, verbalized, and understood.

  4. Anyhow, I salute the Hijras for fighting for their freedoms in Pakistan. But I believe they are still fightng for breadcrumbs and that that’s all they have won; while they are still forced into prostitution and begging. And I don’t think their new supreme court ruling will make much of a difference – although I hope it does!. If there will be a difference at all, it will probably come from the kind of solidarity that will come from the hijras themselves, and those that support them. The law, in my opinion, will do nothing but continue to define their third class status, as it is no different than ambiguously issued ID, while perhaps only serving as a valid symbol for hirja solidarity. And if anything, although I do not support the ruling, the hijras of Pakistan deserve our support in their vocal presence. Their struggle is no doubt unique, having many cultural sensitivities and subtiltities which are not shared amongst most of the world, in ways that I myself can only find bewildering at best.

  5. I disagree with Melissa Gibo on a number of points. I don’t think that having options will lead to more discrimination. I am intergendered, intersex and transgendered. I was assigned female at birth and spent my first 37 years trying to live up to that designation. I now reluctantly ‘pass’ as male. I consider myself to part of the transgender umbrella because I used to be perceived as female and am now perceived as male. Neither category was a perfect fit. Although the majority of intersex people (or so I’ve been told) want to live as either male or female, there is a significant percentage of people who are part of the transgender and the intersex spectrum who would like to be recognized as both or neither or something else altogether. Australia now has two new passport categories. Previously two intersex individuals have had X in their passports and now there is a “sex not specified” category. Next year I become eligible to apply for a Swedish passport and I am starting a campaign to make O (for other or optional) available. I believe this option should be voluntary not obligatory. For those of us, intersex and trans people, who want to be recognized as something other than male or female this would be an enormous relief. No more being pulled over when crossing borders because our passports have a designation that does not match our appearance! More than that I would welcome this move because for the first half of my life I felt I was living a lie (as a girl and woman) and being seen as a man now is no better. I want social and legal recognition that life does exist beyond female and male! You can find information about the Australia ‘gender not specified’ designation at TheScavenger.net

  6. Good points Del laGrace Volcano. I’ve recently reviewed the litigations in Australia and elsewhere for the intersex designations on passports. I understand how their is more integrity and identity in such truths for many. Nonetheless, for many there is no safety in such a measure. On that note, your point on ID categorizations being voluntary, not obligatory – is completely correct. Thank you.