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Nepal trip lands Pak gays in trouble

The Zenanas', comments, aired by media, have exposed them to treason charges in Pak.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 11:40 IST

A trip to Nepal by three transgenders from Pakistan has stirred up serious trouble for Pakistan's gay community, causing an eight-year-old health programme for homosexuals to be halted.

The three were from Vision, a Lahore-based NGO that runs the Nayab Health Services project for masseurs who have sex with male clients and "zenana men", transgenders who regard themselves as women and dress accordingly.

Helped by Britain's Naz Foundation International, Vision began a drop-in centre in Lahore, operating from the backroom of a teashop frequented by zenanas to test them for sexually transmitted diseases and counselling.

Vision's work gathered momentum after research in 1999 in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Murree of masseurs revealed that a large number had unprotected anal sex with male clients as well as the zenanas.

The zenanas, a highly marginalised group in Pakistan, survive mostly by selling sex, which makes them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, police harassment and rape.

The problem began when three zenanas from Vision's Nayab Health Services project and a lawyer came here earlier this month to network with a similar community - the metis of Nepal, who too are transgenders and regard themselves as women.

The visit was intended to help the team see how Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal's only gay right organisation, functions and to lay down a framework for an international conference of such marginalised people scheduled in March.

However, Vision says the trip turned sour when the three zenanas were presented at a press conference here without their lawyer and without the NGO's knowledge.

During the press conference, one of the zenanas told the Nepalese media: "Pakistan is a Muslim country and does not accept relationship between two men."

He is also reported to have said: "The zenana population is brutally harassed by the police just like they are in Nepal."

The comments, aired by the media, have exposed the team as well as Vision to treason charges in Pakistan, the NGO said.

"(The press conference has put) this community in a position where they can be charged with criticising their own government and law enforcement agencies on foreign soil, an act seen as treason under the constitution of Pakistan," Vision said.

Fearing a backlash in Pakistan, Vision said it was suspending the Nayab Health Services project.

"It is for the larger safety and interest of the zenana community that has become suddenly vulnerable and exposed to threats for which the community is not equipped with a strategy and mechanism to defend itself," the NGO said.

The suspension of the health services would deal a blow to the zenanas.

At a rough estimate, Vision treated over 100 zenanas a month, some of who have also been diagnosed with tuberculosis.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 11:35 IST