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History created in Bangladesh: a transgender elected UP chairman

News Desk || shiningbd

Published: 14:54, 6 December 2021  
History created in Bangladesh: a transgender elected UP chairman

Last week, history was created in a rural Bangladesh town when a transgender candidate was elected Union Parishad chairman, winning twice the number of votes her nearest rival got.

Nazrul Islam Ritu (45), an independent candidate, became the country's first transgender UP chairman after a landslide victory over her rival from the ruling party.She declared that her victory showed growing acceptance of what they call themselves, the "Hijra" community or the "third gender" as they are officially known.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh, known for exporting hundreds of thousands of workers to Malaysia, may have inadvertently shown Malaysians that transgender people can make it big if they are not ostracised or marginalised, according to an opinion piece written by K Parkaran -- published today on the news poral Free Malaysia Today (FMT).

Bangladesh has the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. Despite this, it is constitutionally a secular nation with Islam as the official religion, the opinion piece notes.

Malaysia is also a secular country constitutionally, with Islam as the official religion. Malaysia's successful transgender cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman was charged with "cross-dressing", an offence under Malaysian Shariah law.

Apparently, she wore a "baju kurung" at a private religious ceremony. After many court appearances and postponements, the Shariah court issued a warrant of arrest after she failed to turn up for one of the hearings, the FMT opinion piece says.

Nur Sajat then escaped to Thailand where she was arrested but was given refugee status. Subsequently she fled to Australia where she was granted political asylum and given permanent resident status, it said.

According to the FMT opinion piece, some Malaysians accused her of being "an attention-seeker". However, the global perception is that she was being "persecuted" by her own country and the Thai and Aussie authorities "rescued" her.

On the other hand, Bangladeshi transgender Ritu made headlines in international media for the right reasons.

In his opinion piece, Parkaran said, "I was told reliably that another transgender with an engineering degree from Malaysia became a PR in Australia and is serving the military there. Apparently, a few others there have also found happiness abroad in this manner. Can you blame them? I do not think so."

Ritu, too, had to struggle in her homeland. She was born into a large Muslim family but fled her rural hometown of Trilochanpur as a child and took refuge at a commune of transgender people in the capital city of Dhaka.

She returned in her late 20s and became a popular figure in the community after helping build two mosques and donating to several local Hindu temples.

"The victory means they really love me and they have embraced me as their own," she told Al Jazeera. "I will dedicate my life to public service."

Bangladesh's growing intolerance for the rights of sexual minorities has seen a raft of new laws under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In 2013, transgender people were officially identified as a separate gender and, in 2018, they were allowed to use "third gender" when registering to vote.

Unfortunately, not only do certain authorities in Malaysia mistreat them, many Malaysians make them the brunt of jokes and despise them.

At a "hearing" at the virtual Women's Tribunal Malaysia last week, some of them shared their plight at being harassed and discriminated against.

There are many more Nur Sajats in Malaysia who must be allowed to lead their lives so that there can be many Ritus, the FMP opinion piece says. "They can be an asset to society instead of turning them into beggars and sex workers because of intolerance," the writer says.The Daily Star

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