In May 2015, Muhammad Khan Sheerani, the Chairman of the Council for Islamic Ideology (CII) said that eunuchs are a part of society and should be considered part of the family. Their male and female genetic analysis must to be done so that they may be granted status accordingly.

Mr. Sheerani was talking about congenital eunuchs, who are born with ambiguous genitals. Such persons are also known as intersexuals. At present, in Pakistan, eunuchs are often categorized under the umbrella term: transgender. This includes: hermaphrodites (khusras), transvestites (zenanas), and transsexuals (narbans). The term ‘transgender’ often times, includes lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGB) too.

Congenital eunuchs, or hermaphrodites, as they are called, are born with ambiguous genitals. They must not be confused with man-made eunuchs (transsexuals), transvestites, or the LGB.

It is the responsibility of the government to provide congenital eunuchs protection, rights, facilities and a respectable position in society. Eunuchs are born with an abnormality, which is not in their control. Currently they are shunned because they are misunderstood and often confused with transsexuals, transvestites and LGBs. Transgenders have no place in society, where the majority follows Islam, so they identify themselves with congenital eunuchs. It is due to this association with homosexuality that congenital eunuchs, who have rights of inheritance, burial etc, under Islam, are shunned by society and their families who give them away to gurus, to be enslaved.

In order to absorb this concept, it is important for the reader to be very clear about the dictionary meaning of eunuch, as well as other terms included under the transgender category. The following are the dictionary meanings allotted to each term:

  1. Transgender: Of or relating to transsexual activity or tendencies.
  2. Transsexual: A person automatically of one sex but having a strong desire to adopt the physical characteristics and role of a member of the opposite sex; a person who has had medical and surgical treatment to alter the external sexual features so that they resemble those of the opposite sex.
  3. Hermaphrodite: one having the sex organs and many of the secondary sex characteristics of both male and female.
  4. Transvestite: A person, especially a male, who dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex for psychological reasons.
  5. Lesbian: (of women) homosexual.
  6. Gay: homosexual.
  7. Bisexual: (a person) attracted sexually to both sexes.
  8. Eunuch: A castrated man, especially one in charge of a harem, or a high-voiced singer; an ineffectual person, lacking in some way in force or power.
  9. Intersex: The condition of having both, male and female sex organs, or other sexual characteristics.

While reviewing the history of eunuchs, we came across two types:

  1. Congenital eunuch or intersex: one born with ambiguous genitals. Also referred to as a hermaphrodite or natural eunuch. In Urdu, a congenital eunuch is called a ‘Khusra.’
  2. Man-made eunuch: one who has been emasculated by human action, also referred to as a transsexual. In Urdu, a castrated man is called a ‘narban.’

‘Hijra’ is a word used in Pakistan to refer to a khusra, a narban, and a zenana.

The word ‘zenana’ refers to a transvestite; a person, especially a male, who dresses in the clothing of the opposite sex for psychological reasons. In this article, the word eunuch refers to congenital eunuchs only. We consider transsexuals and transvestites to be male persons adopting a different role than the one they were naturally born with.

Eunuchs (khusras) differentiate between themselves and transvestites (zenanas). A study by Shifa Hospital (Source: Abdullah et al.: Is social exlusion pusing the Pakistani Hijras towards commercial sex work?) found that most Hijras follow two schools of thought, namely ‘Khusrapan’ and ‘Zenanapan.’ The study states:

“The Khusrapan (hermaphrodites) way of thinking was found in people who had a guru who was a true hermaphrodite. This group traced its roots to the early history of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. According to them they originated from the khwajahsaras of Mughal dynasty. This group considered commercial sex work and beggary to be evils haunting their community, and thought of these practices as a menace to the exalted status, they once enjoyed in the society. They only depended on finances generated through alms given by people in return for their prayers and blessings.

One respondent stated that, ‘A real khusra would never spread his hands or legs in front of anyone, all of these sex workers and beggars are imposters, ruining our good name.’

Khusra group of hijras does not enjoy the amount of attention that the more flamboyant ‘zananas’ attract during their displays of exaggerated feminism, in their pursuit of financial benefit.”

Regarding Zenanapan, the study states:

“The Hijras belonging to the zananapan school of thought had totally different views. In the hijra vocabulary zananas are those men who are born with male bodies but choose to live and look like women. Most of them sell sex and perform beggary on the streets. According to a follower of khusrapan: ‘These men try to hide their homosexuality under the cover of being khusra.’ The zananapan folk think otherwise and claim that they are women at heart and because of the fact that society shuns them they have no other option than to sell sex and beg people for a living. As one of the zananas said, ‘I am a woman at heart and every woman desires love from a man.’

Commercial sex work is not the only occupation that zananas have. They are famous for their dances. Many dance as a hobby and are especially invited to weddings and other ceremonies to dance for the amusement of guests.”

Islam does not consider homosexuality as “normal sexual behavior.” Therefore, LGBT is a concept shunned by Muslims around the world. An example of this is:

In March 2012, all 57 countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), including Pakistan, opposed a UN Human Rights Council’s resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity and subsequent discussion on discrimination and violence against LGBT persons. In an open letter to the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistani Ambassador to the UN, Zamir Akram, stated that LGBT rights had “nothing to do with fundamental rights,” declared same-sex relationships as “abnormal sexual behavior” and that “the issue of sexual orientation is unacceptable to the OIC.” The letter concluded by saying that “the Member States of the OIC would like to place on record their opposition to the holding of this panel and will not accept its considerations and recommendations. (Source: UN Watch)

Homosexuality is forbidden by law in Pakistan according to Section 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which states:

Unnatural offences - Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which [shall not be less than two years nor more than] ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Gay rights or LGBT rights are about the state and society giving equal treatment and rights to homosexuals and heterosexuals. Whereas, eunuchs are deprived of their fundamental rights, which they are entitled to as equal citizens of Pakistan. Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan states:

Article 25. Equality of citizens

  1. All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.
  2. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.

Article 25 does not talk about sexual orientation of a person, so it is not referring to gay rights, but it is referring to fundamental rights, which congenital eunuchs are often denied because they are associated with homosexuality.

A Supreme Court Order on 25 September 2012 (Constitutional Petition No 43, 2009 – Dr M Aslam Khaki vs. SSP Taxila and others, SC 25.9.2012), affirmed the citizen’s rights of eunuchs. It stated that:

“the rights and obligations including right to life and dignity [of the Khawaja Sarra] are equally protected...

The government functionaries both at federal and provincial levels are bound to provide them protection of life and property and secure their dignity as well, as is done in the case of other citizens.”

In addition to ordering the National Database and Registering Authority (NADRA) to register eunuchs, the Supreme Court ordered their registration as voters, affirmed their right to ‘due share’ in moveable and immovable inherited property and criminalized the practice whereby parents abandon eunuch children or hand them over to ‘gurus’ who force them into beggary or prostitution for personal gain and asked provincial social welfare departments to work for their support and development.

A major reason for the stigmatization of eunuchs in Pakistan is that society in general confuses them with transvestites and transsexuals. Poor families tend to give such children away because of the stigma of homosexuality attached to the concept of being a hijra. They often live in slum communities and survive by begging and dancing at weddings. A lot of them are also involved in prostitution. They are left with very few choices in life as they are denied places in schools or admission to hospitals. People refuse to rent or sell property to them and they are mostly denied their fair share in inherited property. They are among the most marginalized and sexually vulnerable communities in Pakistan.

Although, this judgement by the Supreme Court was very significant, it did not provide the distinction between congenital eunuchs, transvestites, and transsexuals. All these categories seemed to have been thrown under one category, ‘transgender.’ Since homosexuality is shunned by Islam and thereby the society in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, eunuchs are still ill-treated and viewed with derision because they are still associated with homosexuality in the eyes and hearts of the people. There is a need to distinguish between congenital eunuchs and other groups like transvestites and transsexuals who indulge in homosexuality by choice. If such a distinction is made by the state then people will not feel the need to abandon their children, and eunuchs will not resort to illegal activities because they will have choices. They should be provided the same healthcare and education as other citizens of Pakistan. There should be no discrimination on the basis of their sex. The fight to get the state to accept homosexuality is a separate and different fight from that of the eunuchs. Eunuchs are considered different on the basis of their ambiguous genetalia. That has nothing to do with their sexual orientation.

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