Understanding The Julie Khan Case And The Plight of Pakistan’s Trans Community

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Ushah Kazi

Married to books, in a relationship with food, playing dress up since 1993. An unabashed pop-culture junkie. Come talk movies and lifestyle with me!

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News about the arrest of Pakistani trans activist Julie Khan has been making rounds on the internet. Because of the prescient ‘Naked Truth’ series, Julie had become a viral, household name earlier this year.

She has been vocal about the plight of the country’s trans community, garnering both support and criticism as a result. In particular, her arrest was allegedly based on a fabricated case

Because of a lack of attention from mainstream media channels, a lot of the facts about Julie’s case were unclear. Thus, me and Anam Khan, founder of The Newsrun, wanted to work together and clarify as many details as we could. We reached out to Julie Khan’s lawyer, Hassan Niazi. We also went over whatever has already been published about her case. Here is everything that we learned. 

The Alleged Incident 

On the 10th of August, Julie was arrested by Islamabad police and taken to Adiala Jail. Reportedly, there was an FIR (First Information Report) filed by Lubna, another member of the transgender community, against Julie Khan and three others. The FIR accused them of attacking her in her home, and theft. When we asked him, Mr. Niazi said that the original FIR stated that Julie was never part of any violent act. However, she was still arrested. 

The Context 

According to Mr. Niazi, Julie had been met with hostility from a group of individuals, who he claims are responsible for the FIR that was filed against her. 

Reportedly, on the 12th of July, one of Julie’s friends, Rosy was attacked by a group at her residence. Julie along with other activists, spoke out against the incident. After this, according to Mr. Niazi, the same group broke into Julie’s residence on the 15th of July. He claims that they violently beat and threatened her.

Following this, he claims, they then fabricated claims against Julie. Lubna accused Julie of breaking into her house, and attacking her. However, according to her lawyer, Julie Khan was at Bari Imam at the time. Reportedly, she was never at the Golra Shareef suburb, where the alleged incident took place.  

Dissent Within The Community 

An important point highlighted by Mr. Niazi is that Julie’s vocal stance on trans rights threatens members of the community who reportedly benefit from the status quo. A complicated system of ‘gurus’ (teachers) and ‘chailas’ (students) is prevalent, which Mr. Niazi has likened to “slavery”. 

According to him, when trans people are forced out of their homes, they seek refuge within the trans community. There is a “ranking system” he says, which consists of a hierarchy of gurus. At the bottom of this system are trans people who do not have any subordinate, or chaila, under them.

As Julie Khan doesn’t have a chaila under her charge, she is considered at the bottom of this system. According to him, the gurus in such a setup have a lot of power. They expect a lot from trans people that end up staying with them. This often translates into begging, and in some cases sex work. If a trans person is deemed “useless” gurus may even “sell” them to another guru. 

He told us that many trans people are trapped within such a power dynamic, and cannot escape. 

Challenging The Status Quo 

A vocal activist, Julie had been speaking out against the mistreatment of Pakistan’s trans community. Mr. Niazi claims that she wants trans people to have employment prospects. So that they don’t have to beg to survive. However, he states that such changes would threaten the positions of many gurus within the community.

As he explains, they control the “lowest ranking” members of the community, and force them to beg for money. Allegedly, some wanted Julie to be placed under a “Guru Najma”. And Julie had fled this situation. Mr. Niazi claims that Guru Najma wants money in return. As according to internal politics, trans people are at times seen as the “property” of their gurus. 

He noted that members within the community and some prominent human rights organisations, had been threatening Julie. 

Julie Khan And Celebrity Culture  

Julie’s case is not the only incident of violence being perpetuated against the trans community in Pakistan. They are often targeted. Julie herself has been subjected to violence in the past. However, in a video published after her arrest, Mr. Niazi claimed that Julie could have been met with even more danger. Were it not for her popularity. 

He told us that many trans activists had been murdered by such groups. Yet, there is hardly ever a conviction as a result of such crimes. In Julie’s case, he maintains that her celebrity has helped her.  

After Julie’s arrest, there was a lot of online buzz. In particular, the hashtag ‘Justice for Julie’ began trending, and many called the charges fabricated. Recently, Julie was released on bail. (For more information about how her lawyer secured her release, sign up for The Newsrun. And read their special newsletter about the case. Mr. Niazi also clarified that Julie was not mistreated by the police while in jail.)

Next Steps 

Julie’s return has been met with a lot of enthusiasm. She herself has promised to continue speaking out against injustice.

The circumstances surrounding her recent arrest are confusing. Particularly since they have brought the internal politics of the trans community to the forefront. 

As the conversations continue, Mr. Niazi encourages all of us to stand with Julie Khan. In his words, “accept Julie as your leader in this cause. Raise your voice with her, and stand by her.”

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