Alesha should not have died

Extortionists and haters alike harass the trans-gender community in Pakistan. Mafias try to exploit them for sex, porn or panhandling. Not only do they go through life with an identity crisis, they are continuously segregated by mainstream society and find themselves out of jobs and advancement opportunities. They are at the bottom of the pecking order of our horrid education system that is busy demonizing all sorts of other communities that don’t agree with the Sunni Muslim Male ethos.

This is why Alesha, a trans person ended up dead. It is likely her attackers where part of a gang in Peshawar. Halfway to the other side, she was brought to Lady Reading Hospital bleeding and broken. In a more humane society this would mean the beginning of the end of her ordeal, in Pakistan this meant the beginning of it.

The hospital administration, with a rallying mob of admitted patients, could not allow her in either the male or the female ward. They were uneasy, disturbed and even disgusted. There was much ado, Alesha was unattended for hours and was not admitted in the intensive unit.

The problem is that a hemorrhaging wound doesn’t wait for society to figure out what comes first: Their trans phobia or their humanity. Alesha died amidst attempts to treat her in some corner by putting up some makeshift curtains.

With her last breath, her fancy pants title of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Trans Action Alliance coordinator ended. She was so beautiful and had a lovely smile. Even as she lay dead. Our living even don’t look that good.

The problem is that as a people we only see beauty where it aligns with our notions. In this case the gender binary is so strong that to shake the male-equals-superior and female-equals-subservient is next to impossible. Trans phobia is rooted in sexism. It is unfathomable for misogynist peoples that a man at birth would want to embrace a female identity and biology. They assume this is deplorable and they also assume it is a choice.

Just like it is ok for girls to wear blue but a disgrace to see a boy in pink, it is a carnal sin to be more feminine at will. Progress can only mean being more male.

If the government thinks that allowing trans people to define themselves as trace is the final redemption to human rights they cannot be more wrong. Yes, identity is important but it is only useful if it has a cultural subtext to be allowed expression. Whereas one leads to the other, in this growing age of religious extremism and impunity to gender crimes, an ID card defined as trans, won’t be worth a penny.

Trans people need acceptance. This is unfortunately liked to an end to male superiority. With a government that looks like a gladiator match in ancient Rome, with only a trickle of a representation of women, what can one expect except more and more crimes like these?

KP seems to be in the center of these gender crimes. Just last month a girl called Ambreen was drugged in Abbatoabd and burned tied up at the back of a van in what was clearly an honor crime.

Some day there will be equality in its truest sense, but currently in KP and elsewhere the men with their hyped male bravado are at the reign. They rule with a combination of fanfare, gusto, and ambivalence and as a result they are putting forth a gore-fest.

There are so many things that one can die for. Being of undefined gender should not be one of them.

This is a country of utter futility. The following month the pious will pray for forgiveness and will prostrate and vow to be kind to their fellow beings. This will probably not be on the list for either forgiveness or charity.

Rest in peace Alesha. Pakistan has failed you and your people.





Khwaja Asif should not get away with it this time.

Everyday sexism is much tougher to decipher. It’s difficult to call it out because it is cloaked under cultural subtext of humor, satire or plain smart-Alec talk. When women world over are trying to be nuanced about how to put an end to it, here in Pakistan, it is being institutionalized on the floor of our house. Blatant and for everyone’s viewing.

The sitting government’s parliamentarian addressed an opposition party (PTI)’s peer as a “tractor trolley” and said she should work on making her voice more feminine. Sadly, this uncalled for sexist attack on Shireen Mazari by was marked by not even a slap on the wrist by the speaker of the house.

Rather than evaluate the lame responses in its aftermath, let us talk about why this happened in the first place. It happened because when Khwaja Asif first insulted a woman of esteem it was forgiven as soon as it was forgotten. We have very large hearts as a society when it comes to offending women. We let it go instantly. Everything is palatable.

In 2002-2007 when Mr. Asif was in the opposition he insulted Ms. Mehnaz Rafiq of the treasury bench by calling her a “penguin” because she had a slight limp. Mr. Asif’s fascination with defining women’s bodies to animate or inanimate objects is better left to personal fetishes. It has no place in a parliament where there is sacredness about moral standards to protect the weak.

Even Benazir Bhutto in her hey days was not spared the sexist comments by none other than the overused prime time TV guest Sheikh Rashid who is known to have made inappropriate comments on the color of her clothes.

The problem is that women don’t go by the male code: You are as powerful as how much you can hurt me. Women reject the power derived from might, but this is not to be confused by the moral authority women can have over a schoolyard bully. Therefore, just because you can get away with a take down of a woman more often than not, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will each time.

Increasingly people want to see leaders with girth of character, not shoddy shot-fused temperaments. Khwaja Asif may be at the top of his political game now, but when he exists, he will be remembered for what names he called women.

He dared to go down the same path of putting women in a place he deems below him, all over again because when it happened before there was no outrage from women as women.

Even now, the unified voice across all party lines against this assault is missing.

By asking that all women should come out and side with Shirin Mazari I am not advocating female tribalism of any sort. We can disagree with her politics and also go to the extent of disapproving her actions but under no circumstances is it acceptable for any woman to take an attack on her country’s woman parliamentarian lying down.

With honor killing as rampant as it is, with the number of girl children being elbowed away from the education pie and with the astounding figures on our maternal mortality, women cannot expect any protections if the women representing them are being degraded publically – and the violators get away with it every time.

As a truly Pakistani gimmick, Khwaja Asif has come out with an apology today. The seriousness of it, or lack thereof is evident that the apology was very half-hearted and that too not to Shirin Mazari directly. She has rightfully rejected it. There is no such thing as un-stabbing, no such thing as un-insulting and no such thing as unlearning your place in the pecking order.

The food chain defining the VIP culture that Mr. Asif enjoys is a fast changing one. He’ll do well to go back to the shore and adjust his misogynist sails before setting off into the sunset.

Abbotabad minor burned at the stake

It used to be that only a limited number of things would get you honor killed. Like dressing provocatively; having sex outside marriage, being gay, getting raped or renouncing your religion. Now you can get honor killed for helping a friend escape a village to marry out of her free will. The ambit of what triggers a community to honor kill is getting wider and wider.

It is only in the absence of the rule of law that communities, tribal in mindset, need to establish that their reputations are not to be taken lightly.

The murder of Amber in Abbatabad is an indication of the slipping rule of law in the PTI governed province. It serves people to establish fierce reputations because it seems like the law is not enough to protect them from losing their assets.

Young women Amber’s age often prank call guys they have a crush on. They send them love notes if they are bolder. Mostly they just look outside a window and daydream an ever-after fantasy with them. It’s a natural part of their biology and hormonal flux.

Amber vicariously lived out hers for her friend Saima. She helped Saima and the boy who Saima loved escape the village to marry. Strangely, in these tribal communities, it is not the presence of sexuality that threatens them but the self-determination of their sexuality. As long as women hand over the reigns of their womanhood to a male guardian and a broader community no one gets killed. When they choose to command it, they risk their lives.

The hideousness of Amber’s murder has a stickiness factor. The image of her charred body at the back of the van she was burned down in stays at the side of one’s mind like gum on a shoe on a summer day. Blackened eye sockets where her eyes once were – with which she may have dreamed and wished her friend a better life.

She was drugged and tied to a van, possibly unconscious when she was burned. One at least hopes so.

What’s even more grating is that a 15-member jirga called by the Makol village elder decreed that Amber is punished in this precise way for her plot to let her friend escape. Whereas there are several ways out for an honor perpetrator to go scot-free by getting the victim’s family to forgive, there is no option of appeal that the Jirga court offers victims, even when they are minors.

As both the ambit of what constitutes an honor crime and the ways to punish victims grows like a wild fire, so do the types of perpetrators. Usually the victim’s mother would try and prevent the crime for obvious reasons. Amber’s mother however felt that the blotch on the family equity Amber brought was heavier than the motherhood that protected her for this long. There is no greater betrayal than this.

These people will be tried in an anti-terrorism court. That is a solace in some ways and is inconsequential in others. To Amber, justice is too little too late. She was born in a world where we cannot figure out that women, despite what any text may say, are just caged souls who just want boys to like them. That women just want to be able to love without death. Kind of like men do.

In a world where there is equality in choosing sexual partners, the horrendous men would be left in a corner. Such a world is unfathomable to jirgas. This is perhaps why I am yet to hear a story where a Jirga ruled in favor of the weak.

It’s 2016 not 1990. We need to move beyond parallel systems of governing and alternate code of ethics. It’s not difficult to spot that societies that dumped traditionalism are at the pinnacle of science and progress, economic and temporal. Somewhere in the world scientists are experimenting on bringing a brain back to life from the dead.

I wish they could do that to societies.









Why women should drive if they want to

The fear of public spaces is called Agoraphobia, but when you have this fear on behalf of a group of women, its called misogyny. Called by another name it is abuse of power; oppression and downright cruel. The Saudis have this fear on behalf of women, which is why although it is not technically illegal for women to drive there, there are simply no licenses issued to women. Just like a mother may not technically kill her children but just refuse to feed them at all. Or like a politician may not technically evade taxes but keep his or her wealth in offshore accounts. Like how a bigoted country may not technically launch genocides on its minorities but certainly allow all sorts of hate speech to foster in an environment devoid of rule of law. So yes, technically a woman in Saudi Arabia can drive.

It’s just harder now. The grand mufti has declared that she may be exposed to evil if she does.

There are two main problems with this. A) Evil can range from a paper cut to a burning at the stake so it’s a bit broad and hence has the same problem vague things do – they can be stretched to Pluto and back. B) The problem is not with the women, so why should they be handcuffed to their stoves at home, metaphorically speaking?

Since yesterday was a lucky day, the Grand Mufti elaborated on what he meant. He told a TV channel Almajd that men with “weak spirits” and who are “obsessed with women” could cause female drivers harm. There are two problems with this: A) Men can have weak sprits almost from dawn to dusk and in between. B) Many of them are known to be Muslim. And yet women in Muslim countries need to drive as much as women anywhere else.

He also said that driving makes it harder for families to keep track of their women. There are two problems with this again. A) Women are not missiles that need tracking, they are people B) That need could be solved with a GPS enabled fitbit, and it’s the women’s prerogative to wear one. You don’t necessarily need to stop women from driving, even if it was national sport to track them.

Women need to drive because a car is that outer shell women need to have to access emergency needs; better health care; escape from abuse; more employment opportunities; vaster social networks and above all driving acts as an exercise in will. The ability for a woman to get out of domesticity once in a while should be an inalienable right protected by some UN charter. Without it women implode through depression. Just because it’s silent doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A common adage repeated by the pious, ironically.

Women also need to drive because it is exhausting to listen to the rationale that religion sanctions it. Islam’s key women were powerhouses – they led merchant caravans, they rode horses into battle and they didn’t fill in any paperwork before they did. We need to move back in time to move Muslim women forward and free them from what has become an exclusivist male-dominated discourse on what women can and cannot do. This religion is unarguably consultative and yet the elbowing out of women has been systematic and endemic.

The real issue with these decrees are fatwas are that they catch on. Here at home our own religious junta is asking the government and women’s rights activists to back down from the women-protection bill. They want less women protection and more women destruction. There is no shame even on calling for that on the national stage. Under the garb of protecting “family values” – again a vague notion – these men push women to the recesses of society where they make no decisions and are in charge only of what starch to use on the men’s turbans.

Well that’s boring. We get bored just as men do. A fast car helps us just as much as it helps men. Let us drive, let us have more rights.