In six days, eight transgender women were shot in three brutal attacks in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Three women died, while survivors are currently being treated for critical injuries.
The attacks were the latest in a country-wide epidemic of transphobic violence, of which the highest rates were recorded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In an overwhelming majority of cases, the transphobic attacks were attributed to Beelas, a term used by the transgender community for men who resort to violence against them for rejecting their unwanted sexual advances.
“This place is a warzone for transgender women. The men who carry out these kinds of attacks think that if they can't have a girl, they can kill her. They are thugs,” Mansehra city resident and transgender activist Nadra Khan told VICE World News.
On the evening of March 13, five trans women were targeted in their home in Mansehra by a man who indiscriminately fired several bullets at them, leaving them all severely injured. One of the victims, named Sumiro, succumbed to her injuries yesterday. Police arrested the suspect identified as Sabtin Fida shortly after the attack. Local activists reported that Fida was a former companion of one of the survivors and was jealous when she received the attention of another man.
Just four days later, two trans women were attacked in the city of Mardan, 113 miles from Mansehra. According to Khan, one of the perpetrators had been hitting aggressively on one of the victims. “My friend Chand died trying to save my other friend. She tried to shield her from the bullets,” said Khan.
A police investigation is currently underway. “It’s too early to tell the motive behind the killing but it doesn’t appear to be a target killing incident but rather a local dispute,” Mardan city district police officer Dr. Zahid told the media. On March 18, another trans woman named Mano was murdered in the city of Peshawar by a male friend who shot her during an argument.
According to local activists, at least 70 trans people have been killed in incidents of violence in the province of 35 million from 2015 to 2022. Since January 2021, 24 trans women have reportedly been murdered all over Pakistan. Despite the passing of a landmark transgender rights protection law in 2018, most incidents of transphobic violence go unreported due to fears of retaliation and other repercussions, minimal police protection and, in some cases, even police brutality toward those who complain.
These recent events have left Pakistan’s transgender community frightened and outraged at the persistent dearth of security measures for them.
“They are terrified and are facing severe psychological distress. Because they feel that anyone can just show up, slaughter them and cut them up into pieces like vegetables. It is my request for the rulers of this country that, for God's sake, save our people,” transgender activist Bindiya Rana, president of the Gender Interactive Alliance, told VICE World News from Karachi city.
For survivors of transphobic violence, the lack of reporting, support and safety mechanisms exacerbates their traumas. “Since transphobic attacks rarely lead to arrest, trans survivors live in debilitating fear and suicide risk is high. Both emotional and physical support are essential to a survivor's recovery,” Karachi-based trans artist Sophia-Layla Afsar, founder of counselling and advice service Spectrum Therapy and Mediation, told VICE World News.
“It's especially important that women's groups reach out and support their trans sisters, as it's the exclusion of trans women that drives them into the arms of violent men.”
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