BY AZRUL MOHD KHALIB
FEBRUARY 27 —This past week, we have been sickened by the case of Sameera Krishnan. A worker at a florist, she was attacked by masked individuals who repeatedly shot and slashed her with an edged weapon resulting in severe wounds to her head, arms and legs. She did not survive the attack. Her body was found in the wee hours of the morning.
The reasons behind such brutality and her murder can only be speculated at this point. The degree of cruelty and savagery needed to inflict such harm on another human being is often unable to be understood or seen unless you work in criminology or law enforcement.
But for many who work who work in the area of human rights, particularly dealing with sexuality, acts of abuse and violence can be an altogether familiar story.
While this incident has been considered by police to not be a hate crime, I want to take this opportunity to once again to highlight the incidences of harassment, discrimination and abuse experienced by the transgender community.
The Federal Constitution guarantees the protection of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. It provides for all Malaysians the same fundamental rights and protections. That all persons are equal before the law and entitled to its equal protection. A person shouldn’t and cannot be singled out or criminalised for simply being who and what they are.
I hope that there will be justice for Meera and that the authorities will do all that they can to find, capture and bring the perpetrators to court. But it can be a daunting task for members of this community to look for justice when they themselves are often victims of persecution.
The transgender or Mak Nyah community in this country has long suffered through numerous incidences of arrest, harassment and abuse at the hands of individuals, communities and even authorities.
The justification for their continued persecution and threat of incarceration has often been based on the use of morality laws such as the criminalisation of cross-dressing which prohibits any male from wearing women’s attire, or posing as a woman, in any public place (e.g. Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Syariah Criminal Enactment 1992). There are similar laws in every state.
These laws ignore the reality of life as a transgender person, and worse seek to deny their presence by making them vulnerable to arrest, detention and legal prosecution. They criminalise a transgender person’s very existence. They also encourage vigilantes to take matters into their own hands.
Many of those detained or arrested often experience physical assault, extortion (often sexual in nature), and sexual violence. They grit their teeth and suffer through whatever abuse thrown their way. Livelihoods of people who are transgender have also been lost because of humiliation, harassment and loss of dignity.
Incidents of harassment, discrimination and hate crimes against transgender persons are on the increase in this country.
Everyone, including a person who is transgender, is entitled to equal protection under the law and should not fear being beaten up or subject to physical harm. There are no, ifs, buts and caveats on that.
We must be outraged by the fact that Meera was unable to walk safely in her neighbourhood.
In her death, there were some who even tried to rob Meera of her dignity.
Some in the broadcast and print media, especially those in Bahasa Malaysia, took to mocking her death or made jeering comments of her appearance. There were many who reported the news using transphobic and discriminatory terms. Complete strangers made public judgemental statements on air regarding her life and identity.
But others worked quietly in the background, and tried to work against such discriminatory and hateful attitudes, and who believe, as most of us do, in the values of justice and compassion.
They are the ones responsible for the change in Harian Metro’s use of the morally laden word “pondan” to “mak nyah” which is acceptable and non-discriminatory, in its online report. To the person who introduced the word “transwoman” into the newsroom of a English mainstream newspaper for probably the first time in the history of that publication, you are making a small change in a big way.
Small steps will be needed to deconstruct long standing transphobic norms and attitudes. But my fear is that it will take too long and the community will continue to pay the price for our hesitation and lack of progress.
Make no mistake. This is not about challenging or disputing any religious rule or teaching. Most religions will speak of upholding justice, mercy and compassion. However, the continued persecution of a minority cannot be but a misrepresentation, misinterpretation and perversion of those teachings.
We cannot ignore the existence of sexual minorities and wishing them away by closing our eyes, plugging our ears and keeping our mouths shut.
We must not continue to tolerate practices and laws which infringe upon individual liberties and promote persecution of communities.
Just as you and I, those who are transgender also have the right to live with dignity, to have freedom of movement, the right to work, to equality before the law, to freedom from discrimination and to freedom of expression.
Please say a prayer for Meera, 27 years old and gone too soon.