Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo September 29, 2017

'I Wouldn’t Wish This Fate on My Enemies'


Sohni, originally from Punjab, was born intersex. She was given away by her mother to live with other intersex individuals at the age of 7. She now begs for money at Meena Bazaar in Karachi. Image by Rubab Anwar. Pakistan, 2017.

Where does the transgender—or Khawaja Sara—community stand socially, politically and religiously in...

Sonya talks about her childhood outside of Meena Bazaar in Karachi. Image by Rubab Anwar. Pakistan, 2017. 
Sonya talks about her childhood outside of Meena Bazaar in Karachi. Image by Rubab Anwar. Pakistan, 2017.

Sonya was born intersex; her doctor, parents, and siblings were aware of her identity when she was born. Yet, they labeled her a boy and named her Shaukat. Around the age of 5, she went to a family event celebrating the birth of a child and saw a group of people that confused her. Are they men or are they women? Their build was similar to a man's, but they were adorned with bright colored clothing and elaborate jewelry pieces. Sonya was amazed and intrigued by their dancing.

Even though she was born with anatomy that is neither male or female, she identifies with and prefers female pronouns. However, she does not get offended when someone refers to her with male pronouns.

She recalled them coming back when she became older, "I was doing chores around the house, helping while wearing a headscarf. It was then that they came up to me and pulled on the belt of my salwar to see. They asked my mom, "Who is this?" She replied, "He is my son." They said, "No, he's not your son, he's ours! He's a Khadra [another term for Khawaja Sara, intersex or transgender persons]."

They persuaded her mother that they would be better at raising at her. Her mother agreed because of the hostility from her brothers. Her brothers had attempted to kill her numerous times, once shooting her in the leg and on another occasion putting a knife to her throat. "How can I forget my childhood and the abuse I suffered at the hands of my own family? I come from a family of butchers."

Sonya's mother e allowed Sonya to go with the other Khawaja Saras on one condition: She would still regularly meet Sonya. To this day Sonya is closest to her mother. "The only thing I want is enough to send my mom to Hajj and Umrah, even if I die afterwards."

It is common in the Khawaja Sara community to have a leader called the Guru. Gurus usually prefer male pronouns making them appear more dominating. Sonya referred to her Guru with a male pronoun. Sonya spoke highly of her Guru and how he takes care of her—helping her apply for an I.D. card with her parents' names, helping her set up a bank account, giving her allowance, and giving her extra money to buy clothes for her mother during the holidays.

Sonya is a devout Muslim, she prays the Friday prayer, she knows of the Prophet, and she constantly prays to God for people. Praying within a crowd of men can be difficult for the Khawaja Sara community. Sonya disguises herself as a man by wrapping her hair in a turban and wearing men's clothing. She was never taught how to read the Quran, but she wishes she had learned. There are Madrassas (Islamic Schools) for boys and girls, but none for Khawaja Saras in Pakistan.

When asked about facing discrimination on a daily basis, doing regular things like shopping or going out to eat, Sonya said, "They slap me, they curse at me." While she was answering the question, a shop owner came out and started to express his frustration at Sonya because she was standing outside his shop.

He was angry because customers would not be willing to buy from him if there was a Hijra [a derogatory term for Khawaja Sara] standing outside his shop. He explicitly said, "I have no problem with you standing here," pointing towards me, "I have a problem with him here, he should move along," he said as he pointed towards Sonya.

Having dealt with this kind of behavior, Sonya patiently said, "Sister, let's move from here. We're hurting his lakh rupees sale."



teal halftone illustration of praying hands



teal halftone illustration of a hand holding a pride flag


LGBTQ+ Rights

LGBTQ+ Rights

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues