"we were important [in society]; we were working as everything, from cooks to advisors to people managing the harems. Our ancestors were trusted."
Colonisation imposed discriminatory attitudes and laws that had an impact on khwaja saras. The Criminal Tribals Act, 1871 lumped the khwaja sara community with "habitually criminal" groups. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises sexual activities "against the order of nature”, was also used to persecute khwaja sara.Pakistani law includes provisions to protect the rights of transgender people, and a 2009 Pakistan Supreme Court ruling called for provincial governments to uphold these rights. However, other existing laws contradict such provisions and rulings, and so far khwaja sara lack access to justice and human rights.In the last month, Julie, a trans woman from Pakistan, has made headlines. She has drawn attention to the way many khwaja sara or transgender women (and sex workers) are denied justice. Pakistan’s colonial-era penal code does not recognise the rape of transgender people or men. Julie, who was sexually assaulted, has taken the only option currently available to pursue her case. Julie is using Section 377, which criminalises ‘same sex acts’ to get justice against her assailant. Julie was told by a doctor to settle for monetary compensation while she sat for the medical examination but as the Guardian reports, she would not accept that. “I told the doctor, have people in your family been raped? Is that what you would do? I am not settling for anything else.”Uzma Yaqoob, from Forum for Dignity Initiatives, an organisation working for the rights of khwaja sara and sex workers, sees Julie’s case as more than just a rape case. “This is not just a case of rape, it is about the living conditions that the transgender community is subjected to and the inhumane treatment they face throughout their lives,” they said.In June 2016, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government allocated PKR200 million ($2 million USD) for the welfare of transgender people in the province. However government officials have been accused of offering the money as a “political bribe.” Human Rights Watch has reported that transgender activists have been told the money will only be spent on their communities’ welfare if they “stop bringing a bad name to the government by continuing to talk about the attacks on transgender people.”