01A legal framework must be established so that people of the transgender (Hijra) community can inherit family property and have access to government jobs under a quota system, said speakers at a seminar on 28 April, 2015.

Participants and speakers at the seminar called on the government to ensure that the Hijra community enjoys all basic rights — accommodation, education, and medical treatment — without discrimination,.

The seminar, titled “Recognition of Hijra Community as Third Gender and Future” organized at Bangla Academy Auditorium by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Bandhu Social Welfare Society, with support of NHRC and UNDP and the Global Fund under the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme.

In Bangladesh this community remains socially excluded, living on the fringes of society, harassed by the police and abused by the public. Most make a living by singing and dancing at weddings or child birth, many have moved to begging and prostitution. Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. As with transgender people in Bangladesh, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy through laws, religion, social institutions and cultural traditions.

“Nowhere in the constitution is it stated that people of the transgender community are barred from getting family property. Nor is it banned in any religion practiced in our country,” said Suranjit Sen Gupta, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Law Ministry. “It is possible to ensure their rights to inheriting family property.”

Suranjit Sen Gupta urged action to promote the legal rights of transgender people in Bangladesh. “There can never be any room for discrimination. This inequality has been created by our society. It is unacceptable that a transgender individual should die without treatment, lack of shelter or spend their night under a tree, with or without clothing.”

The seminar was presided over by Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the NHRC, while Advocate Tarana Halim, MP, Rupan Kanti Shil, Additional Secretary of the Social Welfare Ministry, Nirupa Dewan, member of the Human Rights Commission, Mohammad Amjad Hossain Khan, Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission and Anisul Islam Hero, Chairman of Bandhu Social Welfare Society were present as special guests.

Robaet Ferdous, Associate Professor of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka, presented a keynote speech while noted writer and member of the Human Rights Commission Selina Hossain moderated the seminar and open discussion session.

The NHRC plays a key role in advocating the government and promoting human rights of vulnerable populations in society. In recent years they have made some significant progress, particularly with regards to rights of transgender people and other sexual minorities. For example: Sohel Rana had been working at Bangladesh Medical Studies and Research Institute (BMSRI). Because of the social stigma, he kept hidden his gender identity. But from the time of disclosure of his gender identity, offensive and abusive remarks from colleagues and management became a regular phenomenon for him. Despite that Sohel Rana continued his job amid the adverse environment.

As the NHRC found truth on victim’s allegation, it arrived in a position to issue a notice to BMSRI for paying off the dues of Sohel Rana from May, 2013 to September, 2013. Following the notice BMSRI handed over all the dues in presence of the Additional District Judge, honorable Director of NHRC and BSWS representatives. Moreover, BMSRI has been requested and they have been primarily agreed to take necessary initiative(s) of rejoining of Mr. Sohel Rana and finally from 1st January, 2015 Sohel Rana joined in his previous position.

 “The National Human Rights Commission will continue our work in applying pressure on the government to enact a law so that people of the Hijra community do not face any discrimination as citizens,” said Prof Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the NHRC. “Respect and dignity cannot be measured by the number of people in a group. The responsibility of the state is to ensure equal rights for every citizen. Mercy and charity funds cannot be a necessity of a citizen.”

In his key-note speech, Robaet  Ferdous stated that the recognition of Hijra as a third gender needs to be molded into a law in order to further facilitate social acceptance and access to state-provided social services.“It would be wrong to forget that every individual has the right to choose their gender identity and that society cannot discriminate anyone based on such issue. If done so, it would be a violation of human rights,” he said.

The exclusion of transgender people also has economic repercussions. Most of the hijra are unemployed in Bangladesh but they can contribute in our RMGs sector, labor market. So government should have a plan to engagement with different types of work by creating a quota system.

The seminar featured a speech from Tarana Halim, Member of Parliament, in which she proposed an accurate mapping of the Hijra population to be undertaken and to push for inclusion in the national census. Such size estimate data would provide much needed evidence and would be beneficial to advocacy efforts.

In recent years, government programmes focusing on the development of the Hijra community have notably expanded. In the current budget 2014-2015, the Ministry of Social Welfare has expanded Hijra development programmes to 35 districts said Rupana Kanti Shil, Additional Secretary of the Social Welfare Ministry (MOSW).“With the initiative of MOSW, a total of 18 Hijras have been employed to various institutions.”

Representatives of Hijra community from different districts, social workers, human rights workers, lawyers, students and social media members joined in the seminar and open discussions.

During the seminar the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh and Bandhu Social Welfare Society presented an award to two people of the Hijra community — Labonya Hijra and Nadi Hijra — for their role in catching two of the killers of blogger Oyasiqur Rahman Babu.

The seminar concluded with discussants sharing a series of recommendations to promote the wellbeing of the Hijra community. The noteworthy recommendations are:

  • The constitutional recognition of transgender people must be established.
  • Alike the seat designated for the women candidates, 5 seats should be reserved in the parliament for the Hijra members.
  • Slots in public / private forms or paper, such as banks, insurance companies, hospitals, passport, etc. separate box for the third sex / house could be arranged.
  • Transgender community will have access to free medical services in government hospitals / clinics with cessation of harassment.
  • Organized accommodations for transgender people; allotted shares of property should be prioritized to the elderly transgender people.
  • To include property and inheritance laws for the transgender individuals. Proper implementation of laws and policies must be ensured.
  • Textbooks, scientific databases should have the right information with justification from science about transgender individuals, about their identity, existence, cultures and traditions.
  • The image of the transgender community is distorted by media, by a comical and insulting representation which must be stopped and highlight the positive aspects. Therefore, more promotional activities are needed for better social acceptance.
  • Creating new employment opportunities for the transgender individuals is necessary. Suitable employment and developing effective strategies needs to be formulated.
  • Introduction of quotas for hermaphrodites to get admitted to educational institutions. More job opportunities and reserved quota for the transgender group should be in set.

Media Contact: Zahid Al Amin, Communication Specialist, Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWS), Cell: 01778312345, E-mail: zahidalamin@bandhu-bd.org