Alex Blaze

Third gender in Pakistan

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 29, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: india, pakistan, third gender, transgender

I posted about a month ago about India's decision to allow people to choose "O" for "other" under gender in voter registration forms. Today, I found this story from Reuters on the Pakistani Supreme Court requiring the government to allow hijras to denote their gender on their national ID cards, a separate category from male or female.

Local hijra activists think the decision will help the hijra population in Pakistan:

"The government's registration authority has been directed to include a separate column in national identity cards showing them as hijras," Mohammad Aslam Khaki, a lawyer for hijras told Reuters.

"By doing so, they think they will get a distinct identity and it will help them get their rights."

A hijra association welcomed Chaudhry's order, saying it would ease their suffering.

"It's the first time in the 62-year history of Pakistan that such steps are being taken for our welfare," the association's president, who goes by the name Almas Bobby, told Reuters.

"It's a major step toward giving us respect and identity in society. We are slowly getting respect in society. Now people recognize that we are also human beings."

Khaki said the court also ordered the government to evolve a mechanism to ensure that hijras are not harassed and also take steps to ensure their inheritance rights.

More after.

While in the West we would probably think of a person who is hijra as a transgender woman, they see themselves as a third gender. From anthropologist Gayatri Reddy's With Respect to Sex, based on her extensive fieldwork and interviews with hijra in India:


While they may not identify as female, narratives on their construction of identity bear a strong resemblance to similar narratives from Western transgender women:



While it probably wouldn't help any in the US to have transgender people labeled on their identity as different from male or female (they could just get rid of those markers, since it's not like you need to put down a race or sexual orientation or any other identity to get a driver's license), I don't know enough about Pakistan's legal system to gasbag on whether this move will help or hurt. But the activists there seem to think so, and their understanding of gender identity is different from ours.

So more power to them!

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I would quite like to be able to mark myself as 'other' on my drivers license, it's how I live my life, and it's how I see myself.
It seems so weird that the place my great-grandfather left in search of a better life has more federal government recognition of people like me than the country my family lives in now.

What fascinates me here is the bit about inheritance rights, and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. Hijras, at least in India, generally live in communal houses (their social structures can loosely be compared to ashrams). Which begs the question: Does this mean their inheritance rights in relation to their bio-families (from which they are often expelled) or their chosen communual families/houses?

Either way, the answers that are forthcoming in the months to come might go a long way towards challenging both heteronormative and homonormative conceptions of family and kinship groups.

That's an excellent point. I'm really interested to see what sort of effects this decision has on queering inheritance and family law. And –– but this is a longer-term question –– whether those legal repercussions will have any effect in terms of people's everyday lives and relationships (Particulary as I'm guessing that in Pakistan, like here, most ordinary folks don't interact that much with the legal system when deciding about inheritance)?