As Laxmi Narayan Tripathi took her seat next to the very elegant and respectful Arfa Sayeda Zehra, everyone was in awe of the confident transgender. Despite being the target of many stares, she did not look least bothered as she sat beside Zehra to narrate her ordeal. Author of the book Me Laxmi, Me Hijra, people were genuinely interested in what she had to say. A transgender from India, that too in Pakistan, would always arouse intrigue. And Laxmi did not disappoint.
After Zehra had given a humorous introduction to the audience (with equally matched witty replies from Tripathi), the Indian transgender and social activist spoke on the topic she had been invited to share her thoughts on.
“I was born this way,” she started. The doctor at the hospital I was born checked my genitals and declared me a male. This is a choice that he made, not me. I did not understand neither did I approve of it.”
“People ask me, ‘When did you come out, when did you realise you were different?’ And I always tell them that I never thought of myself as different. It was society that always told me that I was different.”
The audience clapped at the storyteller’s impassioned voice and confident manner. The moderator of the discussion, Arfa Zehra asked her to define her gender, to which Laxmi said:-
“When I was a little kid, I was labeled a homosexual and other derogatory terms. I was just a little child, incapable of understanding such words.”
Tripathi also spoke on how she refused to acknowledge the labels with which society used to box her community, using the convenient excuse of morality.
“We are third gender. I enjoy the nature of a woman and choose to not call myself a man. It is your society that has boxed me in with these obnoxious labels. Our community has always been present midst the society. Problems occurred when morality came into question. People ascribe abuse with the word ‘transgender’ when it really is not. This word means something else entirely.”
Laxmi also took to task British colonialists and said it was them who were responsible for enacting laws that denied transgenders their rights yet did not implement the same standards in their own countries.
She also said Mughal emperors had special regard and respect for the transgender community, until the British came along.
“Your community was the defacto intelligence agency of the Mughals,” remarked Zehra, sending the crowd into fits of uncontrollable laughter.
Laxmi then painted a grim picture of the horrors that a transgender in India or Pakistan face, when society unveils its ugly face.
“I am also born from a woman and drunk from my mother. A transgender child is disowned by parents, raped on the streets and forced to beg for a living. Whether on this side of the border or that, the story remains the same,” she said emotionally, as the crowd applauded her wholeheartedly.
When talk came about borders, Laxmi also said she loved Karachi and made a joke about Anupam Kher that sent everyone into hysterics.
“Anupam created quite a fuss about not getting a visa. I told him baby, in order to obtain a visa you have to apply for it. I got my visa in one day. God, I love Pakistan,” she gushed. As expected, everyone nearly fell out of their seats laughing.
However, Laxmi was different and blessed in the sense that she had a family which understood her situation. According to her, Tripathi’s mother fought for her with all of their relatives but never gave up on her. Her father, after being taunted a lot about Laxmi’s feminine persona by his friends, one day asked her to marry. Marriage, according to her parents, was the cure for her condition.
“I said marriage was not an option and if forced, I would commit suicide. My father was moved by my ordeal and told me not to leave the house under any circumstances. He bought me a flat for my privacy and did not give up on me.”
Laxmi also complained of lack of support that society showed towards her community and the apparent hypocrisy people showed towards her.
“We pray for everyone, without regard to religion or case but no one prays for us,” she said sadly.
“When you want duas (prayers) you come to us and say,’Khala pray for me. When there is no food left in the house, the same khala sells herself for a mere Rs 20 or 30. Don’t you need us then?”
After the crowd was done clapping, Laxmi then resumed her talk and spoke of how after becoming independent since 1947, both countries had never come up with a single policy for the welfare or benefit of the transgender community.
Laxmi Tripathy said society had been harsh on women for so long because women allow it to be that way. She questioned as to why did women not love themselves enough and stand up for their rights?
“Before marriage, we take care of our brothers and fathers. After marriage, we sacrifice everything for our husbands and children. When will our time come?”
She also narrated how she had been sexually abused from the age of six years old.
“Had I been a man, this would have never happened to me,” she finished.
As Laxmi sauntered her way out when the session ended, she was swarmed by people vying for a selfie or any interesting comments or not. The discussion was a fruitful one which, through all the humour and light banter, did manage to raise the plight of a community that has been overlooked for long.
Kudos to Laxmi for standing up to societal discrimination and bullish behaviour. While much needs to be done with regard to the rights of transgender community in Pakistan, this was one step that was taken in the right direction.