By: Muhammad Iqbal
Once I began writing this article, for one reason or the other, my mind kept flashing back to Saddar. Saddar is known to be the heart of this city that I had recently toured about and grown to love, with its bustling streets and permanent air of liveliness. I kept thinking of its historical colonial-style buildings, the crumbling roads and the church. I remembered the old man at Empress Market who often sold me hair oils in dusty brown bottles, completing the transaction with a wrinkled smile and a prayer for my long health. For me, the entirety of Karachi’s soul was contained in Saddar, and there was no place better to visit if you truly wanted to experience an authentic feel for this city. It was in Saddar that I witnessed Karachi’s beauty, its goodness.
It was also in Saddar that I first realised its ugliness. A sweltering day saw me and my friend walking on a street in Saddar in search of a drink of Limca. Somehow losing our way, we reached a secluded alley with a blocked end, where the noise and life of the area seemed a distant echo. Throats dry, we threw our bags down and tried to figure out the way to our favourite street vendor, when our tiredness was suddenly cut through with an abrupt, hair-raising scream. Following the source of noise led us to a harrowing scene: that of a helpless transgender woman crying out for help while the men surrounding her raped her one by one. I could feel my mind going numb with shock and not understanding what to do to save her. Even so, my body reacted like an automaton and tried to push one of the men off her. But some things are futile no matter the effort taken. They molested me as well, pushed me to the ground and made off with the woman.
My brain has done its best to subdue most memories of the day, but small snippets remain: they called her Pallo, wearing a red shalwar kameez. Maybe she had a family, in fact she also must have an actual name. And now nobody will know.
The streets of Karachi are witness to all the transwomen who have been forced to clap and dance for their money, who are moved to bless and curse rich men in cars by their poverty. Our education does not fill the gaps in our moralities, and we treat the down-trodden like a dirty joke. They are hidden, becoming visible when we seek them for amusement and abuse.
There have been countless articles written like this one, with stories passed through word-of-mouth, but the humanization of the transgender community can only happen through their normalization: in the media, they are shown always with exaggerated makeup and effeminate inflections, but they are people after all – they love, live, laugh, have families, eat, and sleep like the rest of us.