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Ensuring equal rights for all

  • Published at 11:00 pm January 21st, 2020
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Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The transgender community is not a burden on the rest of society


Being born or growing up as a transgender person is nothing to be ashamed of. However, failing to ensure proper rights and facilities for the transgender community -- even after 49 years of independence -- surely is.

The Bangladeshi government recognized transgender people, or hijra, as people of the third gender only in 2013. Article 28(1) of the Constitution denotes: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.” Despite all of this, transgender individuals continue to be a part of an isolated community, discriminated against only on the basis of birth gender determinants.

As a result of preconceived notions, many are forced to leave their families at an early age. Currently, more than 10,000 transgender people lead toxic, loveless lives due to their marginalized social status.

Because of such social deprivation, many become engaged in “immoral” professions. Some are sexually exploited, while others become involved in various kinds of extortion. A common example of this is demanding hefty sums of money from families of new-born children.

Many also form gangs and demand money from pedestrians and shop owners. The continued isolation from mainstream society has forced them to create their own social systems, complete with their own ritual ceremonies and internal language, called “ulti.”

To add to their woes, many people -- particularly men -- engage in criminal activities under the guise of being transgender. The transgender community is eventually wrongfully blamed for these crimes, and despite being the perpetrators, members of mainstream society refuse to take blame of any sort.

Many transgender people also fall victim to sexual exploitation. Despite being the victims, most don’t dare seek help from police or law enforcement agencies for fear of further discrimination. Many even refuse to seek medical assistance as a result of such discrimination.

Overcoming stereotypes remains a challenge for the transgender in Bangladesh. And without equal access to the rights of education, training, and rehabilitation that are available to the rest of society, it is a battle they are being forced to fight on their own. Transgender people are not going anywhere, and failing to properly utilize them as functioning members of society by depriving them of necessary resources and employment opportunities is a failure on our part. 

In April 2014, the Indian government guaranteed equal access to education and employment for transgender people by making strict laws. In September 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan made the decision to incorporate the rights to life, property, dignity, and inheritance of transgender people.

In Canada, a new law has been passed which explicitly prohibits discrimination against transgender Canadians and offers them protection against hate crimes. Considering the rights and facilities other countries extend to transgender people, Bangladesh is way behind in terms of ensuring such legal rights or social rehabilitation. From both the perspective of society and the state, transgender people are not given adequate opportunities or facilities. There is much that can be done to achieve this. The government should set up councils for formulating and monitoring projects, legislations, and policies concerning the transgender community.

A “Transgender Welfare Board” should be formed in each and every district.

This particular board will overlook the community’s needs and fulfil their demands in each district. On a broader level, every form must have a slot labelled third gender/other in the gender segment. 

It is frustrating that there is no specific legislation which can be used to protect the rights of transgender people in our country. The existing legislation concerning transgender individuals is limited to pen and paper only and not properly administered in practical life. 

A special law regarding the protection of rights for the transgender community is not only essential for upholding their rights, but also for eradicating the harassment that the rest of society suffers due to the backward status of this community. Making mere laws is not enough, effective implementation must be ensured alongside it. 

Nadim Zawad Akil is a freelance contributor.