Queer Activism in Pakistan

-By Hadi Hussain

(The article was published in Oct-Dec 2010 issue of Gaylaxy magazine)

Recently I came across an interview of Ali Saleem aka Begum Nawazish Ali by Vishwas Kukarni from Times of India. When Saleem was asked about gay life in Pakistan, he replied back, “….everybody is free to be whatever they want to be. I’ve never heard of any discrimination based on sexuality….” It might be sensational publicity claptrap (for Big Boss season 4) or a way to project ‘the enlighted moderation’ (a motto General Pervaz Musharraf gave and Saleem followed it by heart) for him but for every LBGT individual living in Pakistan, it was a blatant display of ignorance and irresponsibility. His statement reminded me of General Musharaf’s equally insane and outrageous statement proclaiming “No gays in Pakistan.” Call it Saleem’s elitist myopia for such ignorance because if you are resourceful; with family members in bureaucracy or in army or if you have oil wells pumping in your backyard (as Maya Angelou said) only than you can get away with anything. Otherwise you will have to pay for yours as well as of others’ sins for not being the blessed one.

Such obnoxious incidents and irresponsible comments don’t only trivialize the on-going harassment of LGBT individuals but also damaging the budding LGBT movement in Pakistan. Therefore a serious and responsible representation of Pakistani LGBT community is required so that the real voices can be raised and listened globally.
During my course of work for LGBT community in Pakistan, I have come across a plethora of issues. Starting from the most frequently asked question, “Why LGBT rights are needed? to the myths attached to parallel sexualities; or the lack of culturally relevant research discourses to the absence of non-derogatory terms and literary expressions for LGBT individuals, or the discrimination and violence individuals with alternate sexualities face to the ever popular sexuality-Islam (religion) debate, there is so much to explore and to work on as it’s a completely unexplored issue in Pakistan.

Now I will try to address all the potentially important areas of LGBT activism in Pakistan, one by one. Every single day I came across people asking why it’s important to struggle for LGBT rights when women haven’t gotten there’s, when religious minorities face injustice and when there is a on-going war on terrorism within the land of pure. Why to make such a brouhaha and making this non-issue an issue? To address this issue, firstly we need to understand who is deciding what is important and what is not. And this idea of becoming ‘important’ also varies from person to person. Secondly, having other issues doesn’t lessen the importance of LGBT rights rather they require more attention as various organizations and NGOs are working for the empowerment of women and minorities in Pakistan but LGBT issues are always brushed under the carpet (Although there are some NGOs working with Hijra community only and its limited to HIV/AIDS and sexual health). We need to understand and accept the fact that LGBT rights are actually human rights and without recognizing and implementing them we can’t call Pakistan a civil society.
Every time, I look around or talk to my fellow queer folks, I hear that people laugh about their sexual and gender identity and I believe media is responsible for this at large. Because look at any movie or play, LGBT characters are added to raise the humor quotient of the project with typical stereotypical depiction. I just want to say to all those torch bearers of infotainments that LGBT people are neither laughing stocks nor side kicks. They are serious individuals with a lot more seriousness about their lives than any average heterosexual person.

Then there are several myths regarding LGBT especially about male homosexuality. Generally, public think it’s a disorder which need to be treated, than it’s all about sex, sex and sex. Queers are promiscuous, potentially atheists without any moral values, have been victims of childhood sexual abuse and are pedophiles in disguise and the devil-list goes on. All these myths are primary contributors for developing stereotypes which further cause violence and discrimination of LGBT individuals. Therefore, we need to address these myths with patience and to spread awareness regarding the community because otherwise nobody is going to relearn his/her social behavior. Another issue attached to it the problem of language and terminology we found in Urdu or other regional languages. All we have is chakka, khusra, zanana, baji, moorat, double paratha, double sim, londaybaz, pathaon ke barfi etc and all of them are slangs or abuses. There’s a huge drench of gender neutral and non-derogatory vocabulary for LGBT which should also be culturally relevant. Moreover, we need to document experiences and life histories of LGBT individuals along with empirical researches exploring different facets of queerness.

Talking of sexual orientation in Pakistan, how one can get away without discussing Islam. Religion has occupied an undeniable holy stature in the lives of Pakistanis and as soon as they hear of queerness or queer rights, everyone even the least practicing Muslims will come up and say its haram and that queers are meant to be damned. Although, mainstream religious scholars and interpretations of texts suggest capital punishment for what they think is male homosexuality. There isn’t strong enough evidence for punishing lesbians or bisexuals whereas intersexual have been granted some rights but most of the population is unaware of them. However, there are alternative approaches put forward by several Islamic scholars and Imams like Daayie Abdullah, Mohsin Hendricks, Sitti Musda, Amina Wadud, Irshad Manji and several others which postulate that homosexuality isn’t haram in Islam.

To deal with all the above mentioned issues in a professional manner, it’s pivotal to get proper trainings to enhance the required skills required for doing queer activism. Because only than we will be able to render proper services to the community. Moreover, we need to establish a social support system for LGBT community in Pakistan which will provide them an opportunity to interact with like minded people and to be friends with but as well as act as surrogate family in the time of need.

Queer activism in Pakistan has still a long way to go because things are just starting off but a time will come when we will march down the roads chanting slogans and raising rainbow flags and telling everyone that we are queer and we are proud of it. Only then we will be able to make this land of ours truly a Rainbowistan.

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