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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

How Gay is Pakistan ? Underground Queer Life in a Muslim Country


A BBC Documentary about Gay Life in Pakistan

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This BBC documentary was aired in the UK recently. Mawaan Rizwan asks what life is really like for gay people in Pakistan, where homosexuality is illegal. It seems a fairly easy question to answer - You can be stoned to death for being gay in Pakistan, though the law is rarely enforced. In this subtly powerful documentary exploring his journey to the country of his birth, Mawaan meets people living gay and transgender lives despite constant fear of persecution. He discovers a fascinating and, to some, a shocking private world where sex between men (including between straight men) is extremely common, but where LGBT rights are also very limited.

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Pakistan is not the kind of place that most people would associate with gay liberation. But some say the country is a great place to be gay - even describing the port city of Karachi as "a gay man's paradise".




 Underground parties, group sex at shrines and "marriages of convenience" to members of the opposite sex are just some of the surprises that gay Pakistan has to offer. Under its veneer of strict social conformity, the country is bustling with same-sex activity.


If you want sex too, it's a gay man's paradise. If you want a relationship, that may be more difficult.


Pakistani society is fiercely patriarchal. Pakistanis are expected to marry a member of the opposite sex, and the vast majority do.
The result is a culture of dishonesty and double lives, says researcher Qasim Iqbal.
"Gay men will make every effort to stop any investment in a same-sex relationship because they know that one day they will have to get married to a woman," he says.


Sex between men occurs in some very public places - including, surprisingly, Karachi's busiest shrine.
Families go to the Abdullah Shah-Ghazi shrine to honour the holy man buried there and to ask for God's blessings, but it is also Karachi's biggest cruising ground.


Every Thursday evening, as the sun sets, men from across the city gather there. A tightly packed circle is formed and those in the centre of the circle are groped by those on the periphery.
To outsiders it looks like a writhing mass of men huddling around one another. Some even describe it as a "mysterious religious ceremony". For participants, it's anonymous group sex.
This kind of behaviour is, of course, not condoned by Pakistan's religious authorities.
In Karachi gay sex is freely available.
It is, for example, easy to buy from a malchi walah - a masseur who offers massage and "extras" for the equivalent of £5, or $7.80.
"We get important people - police, army officers and ministers too," says one masseur, Ahmed.
He claims to have slept with more than 3,000 men during his working life - despite having two wives and eight children.

One of his wives, Sumera, wears a burka and the niqab, but she has no objection to her husband's chosen profession and wishes more people would keep an open mind.






"I know he has sex. No problem. If he doesn't work how will the kids eat? I get angry when people call them names. People are stuck in their ways."
Sumera's position may appear surprising, but in fact it's not hard to understand, says Qasim Iqbal.


"In Pakistan men are discouraged from having girlfriends and so often, their first sexual experiences will be with male friends or cousins. This is often seen as a part of growing up and it can be overlooked by families - it's the idea that 'boys will be boys'," he says.
"Sex between men will be overlooked as long as no-one feels that tradition or religion are being challenged. At the end of it all, everyone gets married to a member of the opposite sex and nothing is spoken about."
Technically, homosexual acts are illegal in Pakistan. The British introduced laws criminalising what is described as sex "against the order of nature" in the colonial era. Sharia-based laws dating from the 1980s also lay down punishments for same-sex sexual activity.
In practice, though, these laws are rarely enforced, and the issue tends to be dealt with inside the family.


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