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'Children Of A Lesser God?' Transgender Woman Targeted In Brutal Pakistan Attack

The video shows a man pinning the transgender woman face down on a bed with his foot and beating her bare buttocks with a belt.
The video shows a man pinning the transgender woman face down on a bed with his foot and beating her bare buttocks with a belt.

A harrowing video that shows a group of men beating a transgender woman is being shared widely on social networks in Pakistan, shining a spotlight on violence targeting the long-oppressed community.

Police arrested 10 suspects on November 14, after the two-minute clip posted on the Internet over the weekend prompted calls for action.

The video shows a man pinning the transgender woman face down on a bed with his foot and beating her bare buttocks with what appears to be a leather belt. The victim can be heard whimpering and then screaming in pain.

Another man also flogs the victim, who is wearing a red sari, a traditional dress worn by women on the subcontinent. Another man can be seen twisting the arm of the victim. Several other men, and several transgender women, can be seen standing around watching the brutal beating.

The arrests on November 14 were made in the eastern city of Sialkot, in Punjab Province. Police said five of those arrested have been charged with torture and extortion, while the other five were under investigation.

Pakistan’s Express News identified the main suspect as Jajja Butt.

TransAction, a local transgender rights group, posted a video interview with a transgender woman who identified herself as Julie and who said she was also abused and witnessed the attack.

“We were beaten up and gang raped all night,” a visibly shaken Julie said in a video on Facebook. “They hit us with shoes, spat on our faces, and made us drink their urine,” she added, while claiming that the torture continued for the entire night.

“This country has laws for everyone, even animals, but not for us. Are we children of a lesser God?" Julie asked.

Transgender people, known officially as "third gender" citizens in Pakistan -- a group that includes cross-dressers, transsexuals, eunuchs, hermaphrodites, and transvestites -- face widespread violence, intimidation, and abuse.

The community, estimated to number around 500,000, is known in the Urdu language as "hijras."

In recent years, the minority group has made groundbreaking gains in Pakistan, a deeply conservative country where ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities have often been victims of violence and persecution. Yet those gains have done little to hide the difficult life facing the third-gender citizens.

Many describe themselves as "professional wedding dancers," but supporters say they are many times forced to earn income through begging and prostitution. Often dressed in brightly colored saris and wearing heavy makeup, some roam the streets asking people for money, making them targets for extortion, sexual violence, and other crimes.

They also often show up uninvited at major family gatherings such as weddings and birthdays, singing and dancing until they are paid or given gifts, after which they depart. Transgender people are often seen as a sign of good luck in such ceremonies, while the curse of an unappeased transgender person provokes fear.

Following their official third-gender classification handed down by the Supreme Court in 2011, members of the community were granted the rights to vote and run for office.

The roots of the transgender people on the subcontinent go back centuries, to the time of the Mogul emperors, who kept transgender people as courtesans and caretakers of their harems. Some transgender people held important roles in the courts, held influence over the affairs of the state, and also acted as confidants to their masters.

But with the disintegration of the Mogul empire and the advent of British colonial rule in the 19th century, their status diminished and their ensuing neglect forced many to the fringes of society.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.