When Nothing Could Stop Karachi's Trans Community: Not Chanda's Murder, Muskan's Rape, Nor Payal's Kidnapping
Imagine a street, bustling with activity. Men and women donning their best clothes and jewelry and gleaming wristwatches behind the dimly-lit windows of a promenade of restaurants – Lal’s Patiserrie and Bella Vita and Il Posto. Others exiting shops, bags tucked under their arms, disappearing into their cars.
The traffic is mercurial. Little boys scurry through it, tapping on angry windshields with their wipers. Somewhere around the corner, the cries of the fruit-vendors are still persistent, and a girl is selling faded roses.
This is the façade of the Shahbaz Commercial Area, one of Karachi’s poshest localities. The night is one of the few leading up to Eid, and so, it is natural that people should shop and dine and make way for celebration.
The restaurant-goers, numbering some dozen every night, are convinced that the picturesque myopia of the area should be maintained.
Venture no further into the lanes and the by-lanes, where, in the earliest hours of August 30th, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal Shahbaz noises.
At the time, not a soul in sleeping Shahbaz heard them – one pistol fire, newspaper reports told the next day, went through Chanda’s head, killing the transgender woman on spot.
This was not the first time that Chanda had frequented this locality. In fact, she, along with her friends Vicky and Sajjad, was a regular denizen of the Shahbaz streets, where she had been begging since the day her family disowned her.
It was also not the first time that Chanda had seen the face of the killer. No, he had looked at her through the tinted windows of his white Vigo, opening it occasionally to hurl eggs and water at the group begging at the signal.
To members of the transgender community that I would later speak with, this sight was not an unfamiliar one, but a nightly routine everyone can recount:
Always a white vehicle turns up, sometimes a Toyotta Corolla, at other times a Prado, bearing the faces of sniggering men and their private security guards.
Complaints to the local traffic police, one is not surprised to discover, went unheeded. And Chanda’s life continued as usual, beset by harassment and humiliation.
Until that night, when the anger boiling in her finally surfaced, and her retaliation came in the form of verbal abuses directed at the men. That retaliation was silenced with a bullet.
The day following Chanda’s murder, social media was taken in by a storm. Newspapers ran disparate versions of the story.
In one version, Chanda had interacted with her murderer in a ‘personal capacity’ before.
In another, she had sat in his car before the argument that took her life ensued.
In a third version, she had tried to rob them, which led the men to shoot her in self-defence.
One could not tell what was more appalling, these miniscule deflections, intended as it were to imply that Chanda was not murdered in cold blood, or the comments section, where people called into question her presence in the area at that late hour in the first place.
Naturally, our well-meaning Facebook slacktivists didn’t mean to offend anyone, but only make a banal display of their class privilege, and prove to us, lo and behold, that they have an opinion.
Of course, everyone in Pakistan has an opinion on matters they know nothing about. It’s the national bourgeois pastime, having an opinion.
The SHO Aurangzeb Khattab, of course, has many opinions of his own. Only a cursory reading of him will reveal the degrees to which he has exceeded the others in his shameless display of what class privilege looks like.
Toying with the 9mm shell casings discovered at the crime scene with his clumsy, little fingers, he assumed the air of Sherlock Holmes and commented:
“We believe that the issue was not only the egg throwing but there was something more which they are hiding. We believe that the victims knew the culprits.”
Except that Mr Khattab is no Sherlock Holmes; it's disgustingly obvious when it comes to his biases.
With blatant transphobia, the police discounted the credibility of Vicky and Sajjad, Chanda’s friends who were with her that night, and instead, accused them “of concealing evidence”.
The periphrastic nature of his investigation premises itself on victim-blaming. It comes with a misplaced assumption that all transgender men and women are either sex workers, high-end dancers, or thieves.
And since they already choose to lead 'immoral' lifestyles, dwelling within unsafe territories, they cannot be considered ideal victims; they are perhaps as suspect as their victims.
This explanation creates the mistaken assumption of consent between the perpetrator and the victim, and acts as a blatant refusal to recognise the complex ways in which economic realities govern the choices of the transgender community.
Discriminated against at home, at school, and in mainstream workplaces, even the most pin-brained minds can tell that on the night of August 30th, Chanda and her friends weren't having fun begging.
When the world was busy feeling entitled to an opinion, far away from the comfortable myopia of Khayaban-e-Shahbaz where Mr Khattab toyed away with evidence, five men had already broken into the house of Sapna, on the other side of the city, and gang-raped her chailas.
Not a full day had passed since Chanda’s murder when a short video clip shared by Sapna, a transgender resident of Sachal Goth, began floating around on social media. The alarming faces of the bruised victims, as they huddled on the floor, visible; their ravaged hair sticking out, their clothes torn apart.
In the background, a couch with torn upholstery can be seen. Sapna’s camera scans the interior of a room which is now only broken glass and disheveled sheets.
Seated in the centre is herself, beating her chest in mourning: “Look what they’ve done to my children,” she repeats.
Within a few hours of its posting, Sapna’s video went viral and she began receiving phone calls from members of the transgender community across the city.
By this time, I had already seen it on Facebook, albeit with much difficulty, and rang Ihsan Ali Khoso, the chairman of the Petarian Human Rights Organization, the mother-wing of the Sindh Transgender Network.
“Vicky and Sajjad cannot meet anyone,” said his voice through the receiver, “Their guru is extremely concerned about their safety given with how the proceedings have taken place. Great fear has been instilled into them and the police doesn’t want them to speak to anyone. They’ve left the city for some time.”
“What about Sapna?” I inquire, anxiously.
“After their video went viral, she and her chailas also started receiving threats. For speaking up. They were no longer safe in Sachal Goth. We’ve relocated them to a temporary hiding place until matters cool off. I can take you there.”
Post-Eid holidays, Mr Khoso and Shehzadi Rai, member of the Advisory Board of the Sindh Transgender Network, pick me up from Karachi University.
On the condition that I keep the location of Sapna’s new home anonymous for security reasons, they drive me to an area on the margins of Karachi, which, in this rainy weather and traffic, takes forever to reach.
As our car traverses the margin, I am immediately aware that this margin separates many things: the façade of Shahbaz from its underbelly, the Facebook slacktivists from the transgender who was shot, wealth from poverty, morality from immorality.