This is an update on the legal status of Shumail Raj, a female-to-male transgender man and Shahzina Tariq, his wife, who were imprisoned by Pakistani authorities. IGLHRC has followed this case closely.
Shumail Raj, 31, has undergone two surgeries to remove his breasts and uterus and has lived as a man for 16 years. He and his longtime girlfriend, Shahzina Tariq, 26, were married in September 2006. In May of this year, a High Court judge ordered the couple to be arrested for falsely testifying that Shumail was a man and that they were legally married. Shumail and Shahzina were subsequently sentenced to three years in prison. In June 2007, a Supreme Court judge ordered the case to be re-opened and released the couple on 10,000 rupees bail ($825). The Court is expected to decide if Shumail is a man or woman, which will determine if his marriage to Shahzina is valid.
Two months after being released from prison on bail, Shumail and Shahzina have a temporary job at an NGO focusing on women’s rights and are trying to get on with their lives. This update gives information on their current situation.
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Nighat Khan, director of ASR Resource Centre, which is currently housing the couple and providing them with employment, says, “Shumail is safe at the moment. But there is a risk. They [the couple] and we would like for them to try and stay here [in Pakistan] unless it is absolutely impossible. On one hand, Shumail says, we must get them abroad. But on the other hand he is unable and unwilling to give up his life in Faisalabad.”
According to Ms. Khan, the Resource Centre provided $US 10,000 for legal costs related to filing the Supreme Court appeal. An additional $US 3,000 in donations helped cover the court and legal expenses accrued as a result of harassment suits brought by Shahzina’s father who is determined to have the marriage between Shumail and Shahzina annulled on the grounds that Shumail is “not a man.”
Ms. Khan notes that the couple is very courageous for wanting to stay in Pakistan, potentially paving the way for others in similar situations. “Shumail is keen to help others,” she says. Transgender individuals in Pakistan have typically faced a myriad of dangers from police, family, community, and religious authorities, and had to leave the country.
“If we can bring about a change in the law in Pakistan that will allow a change in gender identities and legal identities and marriage between transsexuals and their partners, this will have a positive fallout on other Muslim countries and in South Asia,” suggests Ms. Khan who hopes that, with international support from organizations like the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, her Centre can initiate public interest legislation. “We may need to ask people from Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Egypt to come to Pakistan and some of us from here to go there,” she advocates.
Meanwhile, Shumail’s and Shahzina’s marriage and living arrangements are in limbo. If the Court refuses to recognize marriage between a transgender man and woman, the couple’s relationship could incur negative community response since, according to religious and cultural norms, a heterosexual couple cannot live together outside of marriage. On the other hand, if the Court rules that Shumail is a woman, not only does this violate his right to a transgender identity, it could also create problems with his living arrangements. In Pakistan, two women can share a home, but not as sexual partners. Although Shumail and Shahzina have always stated that they are not lesbians and theirs is not a same-sex relationship, Section 377 of the Penal Code penalizes “unnatural offences” between heterosexual and homosexual couples, and has been used disproportionately against homosexuality. If the Court rules that Shumail is a man, there is uncertainty about how the more conservative members of community, including the media, will respond to the couple.
Ms. Khan observes, “The response in the public and from the Islamists has not been negative. Curiosity, yes, but not antagonism. Let’s see.” As for a public discussion about transgender rights under Muslim law, she says, “We are a small group with four of us involved in programs and we are absolutely stretched. If we do go through with all of this we will need funds for lawyers, expert groups, media drives and pubic awareness campaigns.”
For now, the Centre is trying to assist the couple with the day-to-day business of finding a permanent place to stay and a permanent income. “Even when they do find their own place to live, they will continue to work in our office but ASR is able to give a very minimum wage and only for another two months or so. At the minimum they should be able to get by on $US 300 a month which includes rent. We are thinking they need start-up money for a small enterprise, a small corner shop. This will also help them in terms of confidence in being out in the public.”
Shahzina and Shumail have requested that donations be made to their personal account at the following address:
Name: Shehzina Tariq (note spelling of name)
Account number: 010-3452-0
Address: United Bank Limited
Main Market Branch,
Published on September 19, 2007 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization