Plight of transgender community in Kashmir appears to be going from bad to worse!
By Baseera Rafiqi
Srinagar: Wearing brightly coloured, highly conspicuous, clothes and makeup; dancing while singing Kashmiri songs. Yes, we are talking about the performance of transgender people at Kashmiri weddings which is arguably the only occasion where they are recognized and treated well.
They live in close confinements and are rarely visible as their journey of exploitation, harassment and bullying start at a very early age and those who survive to have a painful story to narrate.
As one walks through the lanes of the old city (Downtown) to meet the transgender people, the locals point at their homes in a very cynical way.
The transgender community has always lived in silence and suffered at the hands of their family, friends and society.
“People will laugh at you, throw stones and call you by names,” said Babloo, 40, sitting in her home with other fellow transgender friends.
They gather in Babloo’s house, talk for a while and return to their lives. Only if there is a death, disease or eventuality, they huddle up to help each other out as they know no one will come to help them.
As Babloo is one of the more articulate persons of the group she gives an insight into her upbringing.
“I was in the boys’ school Dalgate, and my parents used to put the boys uniform on me, and I hated it,” she says. “My attention was grabbed by girls’ uniforms all the time, which I secretly wore.”
When she hit puberty she came to know about her sexuality and it came as a shock for the family.
“Classmates were the first to notice my inclination and this became a reason for my physical and verbal harassment and eventually drop out,” says Babloo, the lead member of his community, the members of which earn their livelihood by singing at marriage functions and acting as matchmakers.
The transgender in the Valley are found fit for no other job and hence engage themselves in matchmaking, singing and dancing and others who find no means to earn a livelihood struggle to survive.
Social stigma, a major reason that they drop out of school, forces transgender people to give up their education. No one talks about the plight of this community and there are very few documented records about their growth, life, education and socio-psychological health.
Aijaz Ahmad Bund, a scholar who has been advocating for transgender rights has faced many cases of abuse himself. He has tried to document all this in the book “Hijras of Kashmir: A Marginalized Form of Personhood”.
Lack of education takes away the employment opportunities from them and hence they follow the footsteps of their forefathers and take up the roles of entertainers at local weddings.
Zareef Ahmad Zarref, a historian, confirms that the tradition of transgender people performing at weddings dates back to the 14th century.
“I used to love to attend weddings and dance there with girls, wearing girls’ clothes,” Babloo says. But today, she says, work at weddings is harder to come by. She is currently working as a matchmaker.
“Earlier our singing was relished at the marriage parties but with the introduction of DJ’s, our popularity has hit a new low. It will hamper our survival as no one among us is equipped to do other jobs,” says a transgender.
Apart from survival they face a total de-inclination from society, their family members and the government.
“I have been consulting mental health experts since I was 18 years old, I am living in a constant fear that my family will throw me out someday,” fears Shabu, a transgender from the City.
“We live, we die, no one cares about us, and they don’t even attend our funerals. We will continue to suffer until people change their mindsets and think of us as humans,” sighed Shabu.
There are not enough policies, schemes and laws which could help them to live in dignity.
“No government scheme has benefitted any of the transgender members that I know. If we will take care of each other, we will starve to death,” says Babloo.
With a total population of 4,000, Kashmir’s transgender community lives in fear of being targeted. “I have a lot of friends who prefer not to reveal their identities as they fear repercussions, like abuse from their families and relatives,” says Shanu.