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Pakistani media's exotification of the third-gender

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

"Khawaja sara ki dua aur bad-dua ka bohat asar hota hai" If you live in Pakistan, you've probably heard this phrase before. It is generally a justification for giving trans-folks some loose change/donations so their mystical prayers will make our problems go away. But it begs the question, are Khawaja Sara only worthy of our help if they can magically help us due to their different gender? Is this not the very pinnacle of exotification of something they never chose to be a part of? When I say exotification, I'm generally referring to the process of reducing a group of people to superficial characteristics and stereotypes, while simultaneously othering them, and this is something we see on a daily basis. There aren't those many media examples of empowering narratives for transgender people. Rather, majority of the times they are depicted as either victims or laughing stocks.

To give a popular example, observe the movie, Bol. In this movie, Saifi, an intersex Pakistani, grows up being hated by everyone. He tries to paint trucks for a living before he is harassed to the point that he can't work anymore. It's hinted that he will eventually resort to dancing and prostitution so his religious father smothers & kills him in his sleep.

These kind of media depictions of transgender folk are very common in Pakistani media. The debate regarding whether this is a reality first and a media portrayal second, or whether this media narrative actually fed into how we see the reality of transgender people in Pakistan, is quite ambiguous. Perhaps it isn't one or the other, but both.

However, when they aren't being portrayed as helpless victims, they are included in talk shows and dramas to serve purely as comedic devices. In fact, in a study conducted on the portrayal of Khawaja Saras in Pakistani television shows, it was found that 56.9% of the time, they're included solely for humorous jabs and laughing-gag purposes (I have linked this study at the end). Unfortunately, print-media is no different in its treatment of the third gender. To illustrate the sheer amount of stereotypical misgendering present in the news, observe the fact that Pakistani newspapers often call Trans folks "Eunuchs". The precise definition of Eunuch is a man who has been castrated (in historical times so that he could guard the oriental courts and harems without any threat of temptation). To refer to intersex & trans people as Eunuchs is downright derogatory, but also a norm in Pakistani news articles. Observe the following four headlines from leading news agencies such as Dawn, Express Tribune & The Nation (all linked at the end):

As demonstrated above, when "Eunuchs" are not being linked to criminal activities, they are associated with begging, prostitution, and vulgarity. Truthfully, these articles represent the general mindset that Pakistanis possess in regards to Trans folks. In fact, this mindset is so heavily inculcated that it's not so surprising when the prime-minister of the country calls his political opponent Bilawal Bhutto "Sahiba", feeding into the locker-room talks of many Pakistanis dwelling on Bilawal's gender while using terms like "Khusra" against him.

In addition, Khawaja Saras have been so heavily put into a box that when they try to break out of it, it is seen as controversial. Notice the following news article:

On surface level, the headline may seem harmless. But the use of the word "also" along with the derogatory term "Eunuch" could connotate that the political arena isn't welcoming of Khawaja saras. In fact, the article starts out by saying "Eunuchs also succumb to the temptation of getting into power, as two prominent members of their community have filed nomination forms for PS-115 and 130 Sindh." If this isn't a classic example of Othering, then what is? In an ideal world, transgender people would be treated as equals and not dumped to the outskirts of society. However, Pakistani media shows that this is far from reality as it directly feeds into those very narratives that it's supposedly trying to shed light on. Perhaps, it's time for that to change. Links: Strange world: Eunuch arrested for forcibly castrating man | The Express Tribune

Signing off, Ali Roman Nawaz.

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9 comentarios

Khubaib Riasat
Khubaib Riasat
12 dic 2021

It's disheartening to see how a human with unusual biological features is rendered an outcast. These poor humans are treated as dancers, laughing stocks, and props for comedy. It has gotten so worse that whenever someone mentions Khawaja Saras, they only associate them with dance and comedy, sometimes even crimes. Unfortunately, this mindset has been engraved in the minds of Pakistanis by the very people of this nation, including national leaders. But there is hope, we live in the age of the internet, and I firmly believe that we can bring justice and human rights to these transgender people whom our society does not consider human.

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Spot on. I once had to present about transgender rights for a law course, and I was shocked to learn that the word 'eunuch' is still well within use, in the language of law and courts. Even the constitution refers to transgenders as eunuchs at multiple occasions which is reflective of the insensitivity, even at a state level.

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Wonderful opinions everyone! Thank you for taking the time to reflect on the dire situation of Trans representation in Pakistan.

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Well said! It is unfortunate that trans people either lack representation entirely or are introduced as a taboo or punchline. It's important that they too are given empowering roles in the media, and that their insight is relied upon heavily in the making of media which include them, so that they garner representation that is closer to their lived experience

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It is totally true whenever the talk on gender comes up; people talk about males and females only. The transgender community is ignored as a whole. There are no proper law implementations for the protection and rights of intersex. I never saw a movie that gave transgender an important role. We should do something about them. There should be proper rights for them. They are as much human as we are.

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