Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pakistan Jails Same-Sex Couple

(picture taken by Qiyamah A. Rahman)

I wrote the following essay to my class mates for my online class, Islam in India, the class for which I originally set this blog up. In the course of the class we had studied about hijas, individuals in India that we might refer to as cross dressers or homosexuals in the American culture. In past years they have served in a sacred ritualistic role and were called on for certain life's passages like birthdays. More and more these roles are diminished and they are being ostracized instead of included as a vital and acceptable part of the Indian culture. While the example from Pakistan does not appear to fall into the category of hijra, it nevertheless raises the issue of justice and protecting the vulnerable segments of society against those who would use the individual's marginalized status to futher victimize them.

March 29, 2007

Dear Friends: I attribute my increased awareness about gender diversity outside the USA to our class, Islam in India and particularly the unit on hijras. In the course of the class I have come across two articles in the popular media that addresses the issue of gender diversity. One, long pas and carried in the NYT was about an individual in India that does a talk show. This individual is in a high visibility position. For some reason I was annoyed and concerned with the individuals "inappropriate flirtatiousness" and even some "raunchy" innuendos (my language) described in the article. I think unconsciousnessly I recognized the power of the position and wanted the individual to more fully appreciate the fact that they represent a tremendous opportunity to educate folks and to use the role positively. As an African American I know where that "noble thinking" comes from and it is certainly a set up for a life on a pedestal. The individual seems to be really enjoying her life and all the visibility that comes with it. You go girl! And I need to get over my "holding up the whole race thing."

The second case, in Pakistan is a tragic example of two individuals that love each other that are being persecuted simply because of their love. The Chicago Tribune World section 1 today, May 29, 2007 carried an article titled, Pakistan Jails "same-sex" Couple. In Lahore, Pakistan the couple sought legal protection against harassment and ended up being sentenced to 3 years in prison for lying to a Pakistani judge. The lie had to do with the fact of whether t surgery had turned one partner into a man. Shumail Raj was born female and had breast and uterus removal operations sixteen years ago. Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq, both 26 years old, married last year and approached the court for protection against harassment from Tariq's parents. They contended they married to prevent Tariq from being sold into marriage to pay off her uncle's gambling debts. The court-appointed doctors examined Raj and ruled that earlier operations were not complete and therefore Raj was still a woman. Not only were they sentenced to three years in prison but fined $165, the equivalent of two months salary. Fortunately, the judge did demonstrate some mercy and dropped the charges of "unnatural lust" which can be punishable by life in prison. However, the court is still resuming hearings to determine whether to annul the couple's marriage which Tariq's family says contravenes Islam and Pakistani laws. Meanwhile, the two are in jail. So not only are same sex unions illegal but sexual reassignment surgery is illegal in Pakistan. The only exceptions are instances where a person is born with hormonal disorder.

Thank you Professor Ibrahim for the resources that you provided. Because it allows me to return to them to follow cases like this and to raise the issue of human rights abuse as primary rather than to judge this couple solely on their actions. An examination of the context indicates they had no options short of leaving Pakistan. The couple admitted they lied about Raj's gender because they "were in love and wanted to live together."

May we work to achieve a time and a legacy for our children when it is acceptable for people to love freely and to know that love is a good thing. Blessed Be!