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The third sex rises
Tales of torment, courage and victory poured in when transgendered people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal met at a conference held in April in Kathmandu. New Delhi-based organisation Crea hosted the initiative 'Count Me In', bringing together the most marginalised victims of sex-based violence - including people with HIV/AIDS, gays, lesbians and sex workers. The atmosphere was not totally grim though;inspiring stories emerged from Nepal where, in 2007, only six years after the gay rights movement began, the Supreme Court provided astonishing support to sexual minorities. A court verdict on a public interest litigation recognised these as 'natural people' entitled to all the rights and privileges other citizens enjoyed. The court also approved of same-sex marriages and ordered the government to make appropriate laws.
A year later, when Nepal held a historic election, changing from a traditional Hindu kingdom to a secular, federal republic, one of the minor left parties joining the coalition government- the Communist Party of Nepal (United) - nominated Sunil Babu Pant, founder of the gay rights movement, to parliament. This made him the first openly gay MP in Asia. Today, Blue Diamond Society (BDS), the NGO established by Pant, runs an annual beauty pageant for transgenders, gives job-oriented professional training that ranges from providing bodyguard services to running beauty parlours, and operates the republic's first gay tourism agency.
The latest success that has Pant upbeat is a telephone call from the British Embassy in Kathmandu. Soon after the wedding date of Prince William and Kate Middleton was announced, BDS issued a press statement offering blessings to the couple, mentioning it was a Nepalese tradition to invite transgenders to weddings, so they could bless the newly-weds and bring them luck. The point was taken. "We've been invited to the embassy to hand over our letter of blessing, " Pant said jubilantly. "It'll be forwarded to the royal couple in London."
However, the highs of victory, based on acceptance, are often followed by lows. In 2010, international media stood ready to witness history being made in Pakistan. A 23-year-old transgender had been admitted to the Jinnah Medical and Dental College, Karachi, to become the Islamic nation's first transgender doctor. A year later, the student in the limelight- Sarah Gill - admitted at the Kathmandu conference that she was forced to drop out of college due to harassment. Although accustomed to persecution, there came a time when Gill, who changed from a male to a female persona, could take no more. "There was a debate about which washroom I should use - men's or women's," she recounts. "I attempted suicide several times."
Although she left a hostile environment, Gill fought on, filing a petition in the Sindh High Court seeking the protection of transgender rights. With Bindiya Rana, one of Pakistan's best-known hijras who's had a documentary made on her life titled Bindiya Chamkaygi, Gill founded Gender Interactive Alliance, a Pakistani NGO working for the transgendered.
Hostility towards transgendered people is also increasingly castigated. The movement for dignity is drawing support from many including celebrities. At the Kathmandu conference, writer Arundhati Roy spoke passionately for such suffering. The 1997 Booker Prize winner read from her novel The God of Small Things, describing the 'Love Laws' that lay down: "who must be loved, and how, and how much". The laws discuss the love 'forbidden' between an upper caste woman and her Dalit lover. But these can also apply to others who are 'outcasts', including transgenders, gays and all those who come 'in between'. Thankfully, they themselves have seen that such 'laws' can be changed and new ones made, ensuring equal rights and dignified lives.
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