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The Transgender and Khawaja Sira Communities: Shared Struggles and Tensions

The issues of the Transgender and Khawaja Sira communities inside Pakistan as we speak could also be comparable, but they’re each totally different communities in their own proper.

By Manaal Farooqi

Conversations about transgender and non-binary peoples are popping up in media retailers more incessantly—notably within the West. While nice strides and conversations are being had concerning the rights and equity that Transgender individuals have been historically denied, most discourse across the challenge appears to be coming from a predominantly Western perspective.

That is ironic considering many various cultures have for hundreds of years allowed for more fluid ideas of gender outdoors of the Western binary of male and feminine. Many communities the world over have traditions that contain totally different concepts of gender, sexuality and gender expression as properly. These communities have primarily been on the forefront of these conversations previous to colonialism, yet are unnoticed of the global discourse on these relevant subjects.

Particularly, the case of the Khawaja Sira or “third gender” group in South Asia, who’ve held an extended history of alternate gender norms and sexuality, are solely now being acknowledged in the West as not solely legitimate of their gender identities but in addition as groundbreaking. As of 2012, the inhabitants of Khawaja Siras was recorded at 50,000 individuals after a push for the Pakistani authorities to include a class for the group within the national census. This was also followed by profitable an integral battle to have the third gender choice on nationwide ID cards within the country.

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Nevertheless, while strides have been made, the narratives by which the group is being framed are contradictory to what their precise identities are—many Khawaja Sira don’t determine as Transgender as traditionally they belong to a third gender as an alternative. Western media retailers and also these inside the subcontinent have been conflating South Asia’s third gender with Transgender identities, primarily leading to the erasure of each a centuries previous and (re)emerging group.

Particularly the Khawaja Sira tradition re-emerged with British colonization and rule in South Asia. Qasim Iqbal, a outstanding HIV/AIDS and sexual well being activist in Pakistan, states that:

“Hijras have a special place in the South Asian version of Islam. People used to believe that God gave them two genders, so they must be God’s special, chosen people. Hundreds of years ago, Hijras had a tremendous amount of respect. In the 1800s, the British outlawed sodomy and cross dressing, and brought with them a conservatism that can still be felt today.”

Whereas the Khawaja Sira group has survived the onslaught of British conservatism that came with the colonization of the subcontinent, its impression continues to be seen at the moment. Regardless of incremental progress, the group still faces violence. This impacts each the Transgender and the Hijra group as instances of police violence are commonplace across the country. Accessibility for each groups to providers corresponding to healthcare, government providers and employment stay troublesome on account of lack of accommodating infrastructure and discrimination as properly.


A member of the LGBTQ group, Jalal* also can trace the change in attitudes in the direction of the Khawaja Sira group from Western affect and the influence from Wahhabism (a extra conservative interpretation of Islam) as nicely:

“They had a very distinctive space, they were given particular roads and spaces for them and had a progressive, productive role in society as well. They were revered as spiritual entities- they had a large acceptance in society… In recent years society has been influenced a lot by the West and the West has a lot of homophobia. Obviously that creeped into our society which then paired with the conservative Muslim faction of society. Their roles have been subdued and suppressed now—it wasn’t always like this.”

With the import of Western gender norms and homophobia particularly, both communities have seen some modifications in how they’re addressed in wider society. The prominence of Western media worldwide is important to know when taking a look at how a centuries previous custom might be stigmatized in the age of globalization.

Jalal additionally shared that while there are differences between the Trans and Khawaja Sira group that “they’re not the same… but they become one wider category within society.” This is the reason the systemic and societal points that each communities endure are shared, as they are typically seen as two teams inside a larger group.

Nevertheless it is essential to recognize that there’s a rising Transgender group in Pakistan at the moment, and they rightfully determine as such and that, they belong to a totally totally different group from the Hijra. As certain media covers news concerning the Hijra group, conflating them with the Transgender group is a disservice to both groups within Pakistani society. The lack of actual understanding that gender identities aren’t all the time inside the Western binary, along with a deep lack of cultural or historic understanding of South Asia’s third gender, erases the struggles of each teams.


*Raphay, a member of the LBGTQ group who self identifies as Trans also has points with the Western gender binary, “I do sometimes feel that Western culture often falls into gender binary. In Pakistan we do sometimes find effeminate males who outwardly do not present themselves in masculine manners.”

He states that, “Myself being Trans. I am really tired of trying to fit myself into gender binaries when I want to focus on my spirit… I think that the struggle to achieve binary is such a waste of time when I think of what humanity really needs.”

A member of the Khawaja Sira group, Sunny, who works for NAZ Pakistan which assists LGBT youth in Pakistan, sees a stark difference within the Trans and Khawaja Sira experience.

“Some Khawaja Siras or Hijras of Asia say that they are not women. A trans woman is a woman… Those who are left in the middle, who consider themselves both, he is just a Hijra or you can call [them] a third gender.”

Nevertheless, whereas the communities principally respect one another, there are factions which don’t see eye to eye.

Raphay additionally echoes the sentiment: “the Trans and Hijra (Khawaja Sira) communities unfortunately have also become subjected to a social strata. They often live and socialise in the same gatherings, but this community (Khawaja Sira) sadly is only comprised of lower income groups. It makes me very sad when I say this, but people with more education and income who are gay or even Trans stigmatize and do not want to gel into or support the actually community which is traumatized by lack of education, poverty and societal pressures.”

It appears that evidently the decrease courses adhere to the ideology of belonging to the Khawaja Sira group as that’s something that has been culturally prevalent and understood in all echelons of Pakistani society. It additionally grants them access to expressing their gender and sexuality in a method that is extra recognizable in Pakistan, as it’s been a part of the tradition and culture for millennia.

However, plainly the Trans group in Pakistan associates more with the Western understanding of the LGBTQ group and has had more access to assets and schooling round Trans id. Access to assets plays a large position on this because the higher courses have the privilege and access to study extra from Western conceptions of LGBTQ id which may be seen as extra “modern,” while the Khawaja Sira communities predominantly have their very own traditions, cultures and learnings to entry. Nevertheless, there are outstanding Trans figures in media from the decrease courses. It begs the question of why Trans identities which might be seen as more “Western” are extra accepted within the mainstream than Khawaja Sira identities.


The issues of the Transgender and Khawaja Sira communities inside Pakistan right now may be comparable, but they are both totally different communities in their own right who not only deserve true equity and access but in addition must be respectfully thought-about as totally different communities with totally different histories and needs. By conflating both teams as the identical, it not only erases both a historical past and a culture of a 3rd gender, however it additionally erases the differences and tensions between both teams. Media both inside and outdoors of Pakistan ought to give attention to understanding these differences and tensions as both groups play a larger position in each society and finally play a task in the international discussions on gender, sexuality and id as nicely.

Whilst these communities tease out their tensions, they are nonetheless succeeding in reaching their shared objectives. This consists of having Khawaja Sira communities included on the census, having an alternate gender on ID playing cards and having seen Trans ladies in media as properly. These feats are markers of a society that is extra open to vary than one might suppose—and whereas there’s nonetheless plenty of work to succeed in full fairness for each these teams, those outdoors of them can begin by understanding them.

Each communities are bastions of resilience in Pakistan right now and with each their separate and shared struggles, one factor remains clear—Pakistan’s notions of gender and id are shifting and challenged to create a greater area for its historic third gender and for it’s rising Trans group.

Manaal is a writer and group organizer in Toronto. She primarily writes about points pertaining to violence towards ladies, Islamophobia, South Asia and race. Twitter: @ManaalFarooqi

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