A Pakistani transgender, Bindiya Rana, of Karachi, has surprised a lot of people by opposing a fatwa issued by 50 clerics of the Tanzeem-Ittehad-i-Ummat, permitting transgender persons to marry if one had predominant male features and the other predominantly female features.
“I have talked to many people in my community, and this fatwa on marriage is troublesome for us,” says Bindiya, transgender activist in Sindh province and President of Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) told Mina Sohail of Dawn.
“We are not happy,” Bindiya said.
The fatwa stated that “it is permissible for a transgender person with male indications on his body to marry a transgender person with female indications on her body”.
Painted in warm hues of orange with flowers in translucent vases ornamenting the space around her, Bindiya’s room reflects her effeminate nature, Sohail notes.
A few seconds into the preliminary civil formalities, Bindiya is quick to pinpoint some of the misconceptions, which according to her, are doing the rounds on social media. She contests the public notion of transgender identity, the “features” or “indications” which had made even the clerics assign “genders” to them.
“Look at me, I look like a woman, and most of our people dress as women, but that does not mean they are actually women,” she said.
Interviewer Sohail says that Bindiya appeared to be a woman in her bright red kameez, a printed chiffon dupatta and hair tied neatly in a chignon. But the transgender insisted that she could not be categorized as a woman.
“We are incomplete,” Bindiya asserted.
According to her, the transgender community firmly believes that a man marries to procreate, and as it is impossible for them to do so, there is no purpose in marrying.
In fact, Bindiya fears that the fatwa may lead to some of their community members being forced into marriages. She also thinks it will negatively impact the larger society’s perception of transgender people as individuals who shower blessings on newly-weds and newborn.
“If considered marriage material, people will be wary of them,” she points out.
Bindiya made an interesting observation about gender fluidity which makes marriage nonsensical.
“I may look like a man one day, decide to look like a woman the next day, but who can change my soul? My soul tells me I’m a woman, but I cannot give birth. It is something impossible for me and every one in my community. Marriage is not for us,” she said.
Tanzeem chairman Zia-ul-Haq Naqshbandi, disagrees with Bindiya. According to him the ruling of the Islamic scholars was meant to prevent discrimination against Pakistan’s transgender community.
“Three to four days prior to passing the fatwa, I was on a television show with three representatives of their community and I pledged on live television that I will advance the rights granted to the transgender community, and that is what we have done,” he said.
However, Naqshbandi feels that a wedding between two transgender individuals would be haram if one is neither a ‘man’ nor a ‘woman’. This, he says, can be proved by medical records when registering for a marriage.
“We live in a world of modern medical facilities and we should make use of them,” he says.
Pakistan has taken many progressive steps to give transgender individuals rights. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that transgender individuals must be allowed to vote. A year later, the apex court ruled that transgender people have the right to inheritance and employment opportunities.
Naqshbandi adds that a transgender who in appearance is more like a ‘man’ should get a son’s right to inheritance, and those that are neither ‘men’ nor ‘women’ should get the equivalent of a daughter’s right to inheritance.
But Bindiya has doubts about the implementation of the new measures.
“The Supreme Court has given us reason for optimism by giving similar verdicts in our favor many times, but how many of those have been implemented?” she asks.
“Ask the government how many of us inherited assets. How many of us were able to get ID cards made with no birth certificates to show?”
Sindh province has a population of about 16,000 transgender people, but the government has never carried out a census to determine their population nationwide.
Although the government also announced free education and health care, they still have to pay for their medicines at public hospitals. One of the court orders was that transgender individuals should be given a two per cent quota in government jobs based on their skills. But according to Bindiya that has not been implemented adequately.
In conclusion, Bindiya said that there is nothing to rejoice in regard to the fatwa.
“Focus on implementing the rights we already have legally but which fall short in materializing. Focus on our health care, education and jobs so you don’t see our people forced to work as sex workers to feed themselves,” she recommened.