Riz Ahmed Captures the Struggles of Pakistani Transgenders in Photos
The Emmy award winning Pakistani-British actor came to Pakistan after 13 years and was determined to make the best of his trip. After attending the Lahore Literary Festival with author Mohsin Hamid, he made his way to Karachi. He took photos to capture the beauty of the city by visiting places like Johriya Bazaar and Juna Market. His pictures do not just show an adventurous trip but he took the opportunity to shed light on the struggles that the transgender community of Pakistan faces. He posted on his Instagram:
A transgender lady in Karachi, face bleeding fresh from a street-fight. The transgender community has been an established part of South Asian culture for hundreds of years. You see many many more transgender people walking around in Pakistan than in New York or London. In recent times Pakistan has even had a recognised ‘third gender’ on official government documents, cementing their place in society. Despite this recognition however, they are marginalised and often earn a living through dancing, sex work or a kind of spiritual begging (it is believed their prayers and curses carry more weight, so it’s best not to anger them, and instead to seek their blessings). Same sex relationships are very common in Pakistan and often not thought of as a sign of homosexuality. In many ways this is a non binary culture – in terms of gender, sexuality, and faith. Religiously observant transgender sex workers who live by exacting a spiritual tax, is a good example of this. Known as Khwaaja Sarai (or disparagingly and more commonly as ‘Hijra’) they trace their lineage at least as far back as being an important part of the Mughal royal court and administration. The community has an ancient custom of adopting newcomers into guru and disciple relationships. Financial and social rights and responsibilities flow both ways in an interdependent, although sometimes exploitative ‘family’ system.
He said that it felt emotional coming to Pakistan after so long and, “I would love to know about and collaborate with artists here. I think we just need to know that it is okay and that we are welcome here.”
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