The fight for survival

A pair of eyes anxiously kept on running around the bright pink and red room and sometimes back to browsing some documents lying on the table. Slightly hesitant, Jannat Ali was nothing belonging to the society’s typical image of a ‘hijra’ and could make one doubtful of their own perception of eunuchs, something which is a gift of our society’s ‘rulebook’ embedded in us.

Long straightened hair, freshly painted nails and a crisp white and red lawn suit, the 28-year-old transgender and an MBA graduate could easily fail to meet one’s perception of members of the Khwaja Sira Society (KSS) office, a very confined space hiding near the streets of Peco road, Lahore.

The room, which also happened to be KKS’s drop-in centre was a big space with large mirrors and was brightly carpeted. There lies Jannat’s workstation and next to it is a long conference table for meetings. Nearby hung a soft board that flaunted KSS’ and all its members’ accomplishments and their schedule.

The Khwaja Sira Society is an organisation run by 15 transgender persons who aim to help the third gender gain recognition in society and overcome the lack of basic services the community has to face. From conducting free hepatitis tests to sessions for aids awareness, the members of this organisation are doing all they can. Their drop-in centre caters to third genders having all sorts of societal or medical issues and have counselling services for people facing trouble accepting birth of the third sex in their own house.

“When I was preparing myself to take up the decision of changing my identity, I had to consider my parents kicking me out of the house.” remembers Jannat. “But thankfully all went well.”

The organisation’s office seemed like a home to so many. There was a sense of serenity in the air and happiness on everyone’s faces; the happiness of being in a place where they could not be harmed and of being somewhere they could be accepted.

Teary-eyed, Jannat spoke about the struggles she had to face professionally and how recruiters would actually be more interested to see a ‘Khusra’ than inquiring about her qualifications. Just then, a door swung open and someone dashed right in, lighting up the mood of the environment and changing the expression on Jannat’s face. The loud greeting came from another member of the Khwaja Sira Society, Neeli Ji. She had the most sparkling eyes and the heartiest laugh; enough to dull down the pain of tragedies that the KSS office heard every day.

It is just not this organisation that defines its members, but all of them have created an independent identity for themselves. Jannat, along with being the project manager for KSS and an MBA graduate is a performing artist. She has done plays like ‘Teesri Dhhuun (the third tune)’ which was performed at Alhamra as well as Yale and University of Texas and has also been a part of ‘A tribute to Jahanara’. The young activist has lately been travelling places, conducting talks on gender identity roles and giving lectures on performing arts.

However, life is not as paved for everyone there as it was for Jannat. Neeli Rana, the KSS drop-in centre coordinator, explained her life story as being one of the very common conditions of most transgender persons. Neeli Ji belonged to a very well off feudal family and her identity was hidden by her family for as long as it was possible. Years later when the word of her being a transgender spread around the village, she escaped the house after numerous death threats and spent days sleeping in parks until she was finally adopted by one of the gurus of the community where she should make a living by dancing on events.

The media usually does not show the battles this community wins; that too with luck never being on its side. “If the media had not been a wicked stepmother to us, we would be more accepted and would be treated as human beings if not a functioning, living part of the society.” Neeli stated with her chirpiness fading down. The media has in fact made it worse and portrayed the community’s role to be confined to begging, dancing and prostitution. People would actually be surprised to know that this community is a lot more than their image in our culture.

The world down the stairs of the Khwaja Sira Society is completely different and beyond one’s comprehension of what might be within the office. The environment there offers pure essence of love, humanity and true heartfelt emotions; something that is yet to be experienced by so many. It is time that we finally stop being blindfolded by the malicious norms and culture that refuse to give the basic right of life to the khwaja siraa community. It is time that we finally accept them as our own.

Write By: Palwasha Khan

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