Why We Must Fight For The Rights Of The Khawaja Sira Community
Most of us take our gender for granted. We assume that its an innate part of being born in a certain body. However, gender is actually separate from the body that we are born in; it is how we express that body to the world, how we feel on the inside, not who people think we are. This is true across the history of most cultures; Native Americans recognized as many as five genders. In the subcontinent, we recognized three before the British colonized us.
Today- largely because the British treated them despicably and made laws oppressing them- the only visibility our third gender, the khawaja sira community, has for most people is on the streets of our cities, begging to make ends meet. People stigmatize them as sex workers, while simultaneously taking advantage of them in that position, suicide rates in the community are alarmingly high, and murder rates are even higher. There is very little the state is doing to help the plight of this marginalized community. Heres a history lesson on this community to make us realize how much weve wronged them and how much we have to make up for (Note: This article will sometimes use the words transgender and khawaja sira interchangeably but they are two distinct terms, for two distinct communities, as argued by people who are a part of these communities).
Not only have transgender people always been around historically, they were celebrated in that role. Lets start with the big one thats going to unsettle a lot of people; transgender people were the caretakers and guardians of the Holy Kaabah. Not only that, they were allowed to move freely in spaces that men were not allowed to by the Prophet (PBUH), thus validating their gender. These spaces included the quarters of the Prophets wives, which shows inviolably that they occupied a deeply spiritual position of transcendence and trust. Umm Salama, one of the Prophets (PBUH) wives, even had a transgender friend whose name was Hit! This is deeply saddening to know, in light of the fact that Saudi Arabia recently banned transgender individuals from performing Hajj.
The Mughals were far more progressive than we were, khawaja sira women were not only free to move around the zenana (the female quarters of the Mughal princesses), they guarded it and more than that, served as a spy network for Mughal intelligence gathering. Similarly, Spain under the Muslims also exalted transgender individuals, as they were literally given the keys to one of the cities conquered by the Umayyads.
The point of all of this is to say, lets not be the monsters our colonial masters were. Lets not treat a group that was once literally royalty, exalted in the religion people profess to follow in this country, and denigrate them to a point where their existence here is constantly at risk, forced to lead lives that no one should have to. Transgender rights arent just human rights, they are Islamic rights, and our historical cultural rights, and its time we give back to them. Stand up, demand justice, rehabilitation, and support the khawaja sira community. Its the least you can do.
As a bonus, heres a video of Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, one of Indias leading khawaja sira activists, phrasing all of this in a much more beautiful way:
By: Hammad Ahmad Khan