Bindiya Chamkay Gi
I have known Ragni Marea Kidvai from the day she was born. I have sketches she drew as a child. I have her very first published poem. I have photos of her – some of which she may actually want destroyed (one day when Ragni wins a Grammy or an Oscar or both, these things will become extremely valuable – although, to me, they already are).
Recognition, of course, goes beyond Awards. More important is the motivation for the work, the commitment with which one does it, and the value one personally attaches to it as well as the satisfaction one derives from it. Work earns its own rewards. However, recognition sometimes brings the issue one is trying to address to the forefront, and in certain cases spurs some people into doing some much-needed things. I know that Awards are very often open to criticism but until people learn how to value themselves, some form of public perception is the only thing we have. As long as it works toward the benefit of a cause, or highlights good work and innovation, it will continue to play a positive role.
But I digress.
As a very young child, Ragni questioned her Karachi Grammar School teacher about the banishing of a Parsi girl from the Islamiat class. She started the Youth Initiative for Peace which brought together young people from India and Pakistan for a retreat at which they discussed possible solutions for peace in the subcontinent.
I was therefore not surprised when I heard that her first film was not just a “pretty moving picture” but addressed a social issue that was not generally talked about in polite Pakistani society.
Ragni is the Director & Producer of Bindiya Chamkay Gi which is a short documentary-narrative about Bindiya, an outspoken member of the Khwaja Sirra (Hijra) community in Karachi. The film was screened yesterday evening as part of the T2F Cinema for Change series. It traces a day in the life of Bindiya and the legal, social, and cultural challenges that the Khwaja Sirra community faces in Pakistan.
As an actor and as an activist for her cause, Bindiya is a complete natural. She presents the case of the Khwaja Sirra Community clearly, in simple terms, and yet emphatically.
All the Khwaja Sirras really want is to be recognized and respected as a third gender. As Bindiya puts it, “this is the way God made us – why can’t everyone accept that?” What they need is access to jobs, access to education and respect and affection. Is that really too much to ask for?
Some of the problems that Bindiya highlighted are things none of us have really ever thought about:
1. Public toilet facilities – they can’t go into either the Gents or Ladies toilets without someone objecting
2. Public buses – since buses are segregated, they are neither welcome in the Ladies’ section, nor in the Gents’ section so they have to travel by rickshaw or taxi which is really an unaffordable form of transport for them. Therefore they stay close to home and rarely venture out.
3. When they apply for their ID cards, and are asked for their gender, it is only now that ‘Khwaja Sirra’ has become an acceptable option
4. Schooling – they are pulled out of school by parents because of the cruelty and the mocking that they are a target of
5. Abuse by policemen – they are picked up on suspicion of all sorts of crimes and even when most of them are innocent, they are released only when palms are greased.
The documentary highlights all these issues and makes a plea for understanding, fairness and the right to education, employment and health services for the Khwaja Sirra.
We need to ask ourselves why it is that we as a society mock anyone or anything that does not conform with our perception of what is “normal”. Why is it that we hate and fear anyone whom we do not understand? The film leads us to question our lack of compassion and respect for human beings who do not fit into the moulds that we as a society have created.
The Question & Answer session was intense with most people offering their help in one way or another. However, even some of the offers of help showed people’s lack of understanding of what was needed. One of the doctors present offered medical help to “fix” all the Khwaja Sirras who wanted to be normal. The question that popped into my mind was ‘Why try and fix something that ain’t broke?’ Bindiya answered this question by saying that they were happy being who they were and why couldn’t the rest of us just be happy for them instead of wanting to turn them into something they were not supposed to be.
There was a suggestion that Women’s groups should attach the Khwaja Sirra cause to their cause thus adding momentum to the efforts of both. Sections of the audience were of the opinion that the Khwaja Sirra should try for representation in Parliament so that their views can be considered and their rights protected.
One person suggested that community schools should earmark some schools for the education of the Khwaja Sirra. I don’t understand why inclusivity and integration cannot be the suggested course of action instead of segregation – Schools for women, schools for the visually challenged, schools for the hearing impaired, schools for the Khwaja Sirra, schools for the mentally challenged, schools for the elite, schools for the poor.
How are we going to develop a society where people understand and accept each other – and no, not just tolerate (I hate that word!) anyone who is different, if we continue to start special schools for anyone who is not like ‘us’. Let us provide education for every sector of our population through integration. Sure it will initially be a challenge (just as it was when African-Amercians were integrated with the whites in the US) but we have to begin some time. We have to start teaching the coming generations that it is okay to be different, that we can have our own way of life, our own beliefs and that others can have theirs. And the sooner we start doing that, the better.
Well done Ragni for creating a brilliant production! I am extremely proud of your achievement, of the person you are, of your sensitivity and your compassion and of your talent. Keep it up! I hope that through the awareness that you have created, and no doubt will continue to create, Bindiya will find the courage to continue her struggle for the rights of her community.
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