While most film industries crave recognition at the Oscars, Pakistan has its priorities somewhere else, in accord with which it has banned Joyland, the movie which was its official entry for the 2023 Oscars. On November 11, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting sent out an official statement that stated that the highly-acclaimed movie contained “highly objectionable material” and observed: “Written complaints were received that the film contains highly objectionable material which does not conform with the social values and moral standards of our society and is clearly repugnant to the norms of ‘decency and morality as laid down in Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance, 1979.”
The movie, scheduled for its theatrical release on November 18, narrates a story revolving around a “patriarchal family” yearning to have a male child who would continue the family line. The youngest son of this family secretly joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for a transgender person. The Islamic nation thus deemed the movie to be anti-Islam. Unfortunately, while the LGBTQ+ community has often expressed their solidarity with Islam and Muslims, their benevolence has seldom been reciprocated. There were massive objections to the screening of the movie in Pakistan. Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of Jamaat-e-Islami in the Pakistan Senate took to Twitter to state: “Pakistan is an Islamic country, and no law, ideology or activity can be allowed against [Islam].” The institutions of Pakistan function as per Islamic guidelines, and the transgender community is thus not recognized.
Despite its claims to be a modern Islamic nation, Pakistan’s treatment of its transgender and homosexual citizens has been pre-medieval, to say the least. Some recent incidents: a 23-year-old transgender activist, Alisha, was shot seven times and succumbed to injuries in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2016. Alisha wasn’t spared even in the hospital. Men at the hospital taunted the victim even outside the emergency room. And this happened inside Lady Reading Hospital, one of the most extensive medical facilities in the province. At least five transgender people were attacked in the same way in the relatively conservative Khyber province around the same time.
One need not approve of transgenderism to deplore their mistreatment in Pakistan. Armed men harassed a group of transgender people by throwing eggs at them and then resorted to firing upon them, killing one in 2017. Muni was shot dead in a similar fashion in 2018, and was one of the four reported victims of hate crimes against transgender people that year. The body of one victim was mutilated, and parts of the body were packed in bags by the perpetrator. One can only guess how many such cases of violence went unreported. An activist group, TransAction Pakistan, asserts that at least 1,133 incidents of violence against transgender people occurred between 2015 and 2017.
Though the Pakistani Supreme Court granted them the status of “the third gender” in 2012, this recognition has not gone beyond legal papers. The community is barred from receiving education and is left with hardly any possibility of employment. Hence, dancing, begging, dancing, and sex work become their ultimate source of income.
Transgender people are routinely tormented and bullied on social media, yet these instances are rarely reported to police. A primary reason for this is most transgender people do not have families; therefore, their abuse and even killings mostly go undetected. Having a family wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway, as the families of murder victims have often refused to accept and bury their bodies; such is the refusal and denial towards the transgender members of Pakistani society. Rapes and sexual harassment, blackmailing, “honor” killings, attacks, and chopping off hair are common crimes against them even today.
The police pay no heed to the reports of violence made by trans people. “Threats, bullying, intimidation, and harassment are part of our daily lives, and they eventually turn to hate crimes like the murder of transgender people. These incidents are not reported, nor do our police take them seriously if they are reported,” shared one Ali with The Guardian.
Joyland was one of the few things done right for the trans people in Pakistan. It was the first Pakistani film to screen at Cannes Film Festival and bagged the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize and Queer Palm award. It was also screened at the Busan International Film Festival and praised at the Toronto International Film Festival. But the values of the Western world do not coincide with the beliefs that are dominant in Pakistan. A work of art acknowledged and appreciated by the modern world can never be accepted by a nation still dwelling in 1947, picturing a pure Islamic paradise.