Kashmiri transgenders are a tormented lot!

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Rafeeq Ahmad looked like a male but loved to dress up as a woman due to which she had to face harassment and social discrimination since childhood. Rafeeq’s plight is shared by hundreds of other transgenders of Kashmir valley.

Transgenders are part of the society, but unlike men and women they don’t get the same treatment or respect. They are denied the rights and opportunities other genders avail.

As the 52-year-old transgender, Rafeeq says: “I wanted to study but the society never provided me with the liberty to do so.”

Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Officially recognized as third gender, the transgenders in Kashmir continue to face prejudice.

“I remember when I used to fill any official form and had to enter my gender, my family used to force me to choose male against my gender,” says Rafeeq.

In India, total population of transgender is estimated to be around 4.88 lakh. In September 2014, the Supreme Court had created the ‘third gender’ status for transgenders (hijras). As per law, transgenders can avail educational as well as employment opportunities at par with men and women.

The Jammu and Kashmir government formed a panel headed by the Chief Secretary to devise policies for the third gender in the state. As part of Census 2011, details of transgenders were collected including their literacy, caste and employment status.

In the absence of education or employment avenues, Kashmiri transgenders have been rationally earning their livelihood through matchmaking. Besides, they also perform at weddings to make the two ends meet.

The plight of Kashmiri transgenders has been highlighted in a book ‘Hijras of Kashmir – A Marginalized form of Personhood’ by LGBT rights activist Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Bund. The book is based on 24 interviews and ethnographic accounts which shed light on the sufferings of transgenders. The book, released on November 30 last year, also refers to the poor monetary conditions of the third gender and points to the government as well as public apathy.

No wonder, the transgenders have been expressing resentment over the non-seriousness of government and civil society of Kashmir to address their issues.

Some transgenders are lucky enough to get family support. Ameen Mehdi, a 31-year-old transgender, is a rare case in point.

“I spent my childhood in Bangalore and studied science at St. Joseph’s Boys High School. I always knew I was different from the rest of the boys at my school. My parents always said that I was a blessing and supported me at every step. It doesn’t matter that I belong to the other gender, what matters is that I’m a human who desires to achieve goals like the other people in the rest of the world,” says Mehdi who hails from Bangalore but has been living in Kashmir from last 12 years.