A Sufi Way: Performing Trans Activism in Pakistan
Fall 2015 Lunch Series of the ISM Fellows in Sacred Music, Worship, and the Arts
presented by Claire Pamment
Pakistani transgender communities, known as khwajasaras (hijras) have a long tradition of performing a socio-cultural role of dancing, singing, repartee, and issuing prayers or badhai at weddings, births and Sufi shrines. Recent Supreme Court rulings, promising rights to marginalised khwajasaras, have given little consideration, if not outright negation, of these performance traditions. Compounded by foreign funded initiatives, khwajasaras are increasingly discussed as problems and victims, relegated to frameworks of HIV/AIDS, sexuality, prostitution, and pitched outside a dominant Muslim moral habitus, further marginalizing them. With this onslaught, my presentation explores how khwajasaras are re-situating themselves in cultural space through their Sufi devotional performances. I explicate the Sufi dynamics of these performances within the shrine, badhai rituals, everyday life, and towards explicit political activism as khwajasaras contested their place in the national 2013 elections.
Claire Pamment is a performance practitioner and scholar, who works in South Asian theater and popular performance. She is assistant professor at the Department of Media Studies, Kinnaird College, Lahore and former head of the Department of Theatre at National College of Arts, Rawalpindi. Her Ph.D. thesis from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama explored comic performance in Pakistan with a focus on the bhānd tradition through Sufi wise fools, and transformations in contemporary culture. Over the last two years, with the support of a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant, she has been working on the performance culture of the Pakistani transgender community of khwaja saras (hijras). During her fellowship at Yale she will further this research by investigating how Sufism informs khwaja sara identity and history in Pakistan, and shapes performance practices that enable this transgender community to negotiate a variety of restrictive social scripts.