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?