Around 15 years of age, clad in a dirty shalwar kameez, the boy walks around the park, zeroes in on a customer and having struck the deal, takes him to the filthy public toilet located on the premises. The ‘transaction’ takes a few minutes and the boy is out looking for his next client. He makes 30 to 50 rupees per job and in one day he can service several customers – and all of this unprotected sex.
Wearing a green shalwar kameez, kajal on her eyes, sporting bright pink thickly applied lipstick, painted nails and dangling earrings, Anmol, the transgender beggar in Jinnah Super Market greets me with a wide smile. “Baji aaj tu kuch dey do. Itney din baad ayee ho.” Anmol is not the only one of her ilk here. Over the past one year there has been a huge influx of transgender people (hijras) on the streets, in market places and in the public parks of all major cities, where they actively ply their trade – usually one that places them on the fringe of society.
“People perceive transgenders as sex workers, beggars or dancers. Unfortunately that isn’t too far from the truth. A lack of education and employment opportunities forces them to make their living in these ways,” says Sarah Gill, a transgender medical college student in Karachi, who is actively working for transgender peoples’ rights and to end the violence and discrimination faced by them. Gill is president of the Moorat Interactive Society (MIS) and general secretary of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA). “There is no acceptance for our community in society. We are a symbol of shame even for our blood relations,” says Gill, who launched the first helpline for transgender people in Pakistan and is working to bring them from being a marginalised community into the mainstream, by creating an enabling environment in which “they can be treated like, and have the same rights as, males in our society.”