By Mariam Mokhtar
Last week, the G25 group expressed concern over the authorities’ unprecedented harassment of Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman, founder and owner of a cosmetic and beauty company whose flamboyant lifestyle is admired by hundreds of thousands of her followers.
Members of G25 said transgenders have the rights that are guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. Moreover, they said that cross-dressing was not a syariah offence.
Is Nur Sajat hounded only because she cross-dresses? If I were to attend a fancy dress party dressed as a man, should I expect to be arrested?
Or could the real reason be the fact that Sajat’s determination to stand up for herself has earned her the respect and support of millions of Malaysians, not just from the transgender community but also from beyond?
The Malaysian authorities are seeking Sajat’s extradition from Thailand. She was charged with cross-dressing at a religious event, then missed a Syariah High Court hearing before she fled to Thailand to avoid arrest.
Whilst overseas, the Malaysian immigration authorities revoked her passport and the Thai authorities were compelled to arrest her for using an invalid travel document.
She paid the fine, but an extradition charge now looms over her.
How did our government become so intolerant? Where I was brought up in Ipoh, there were possibly hundreds of transgenders who did not receive the abuse, violent threats and intimidation many of them face today.
They were left alone by members of the public. The religious authorities did not disturb them. Some mischievous boys would tease them.
By and large, members of the transgender community lived almost normal lives, until recently.
Fast forward to fifty years, and transgenders face increasing death threats, beatings and discrimination at work.
Why do we attack those who do not appear to fit in with our views of what is right and wrong, girl and boy, man and woman, Muslim and non-Muslim, Muslim and another sect of Islam? We have become intolerant of so many things from race, gender, religion and language.
How many successful transgenders like Sajat have we hounded until they are forced to flee overseas for their own safety and mental health?
Why are the religious institutions allowed to be very forceful and demanding that they drown out other voices of reason?
We appear not to accept differences. We hear only one voice, which is the one that has been sanctioned by the religious establishment.
In Malaysia, other views of Islam are branded as deviant and are forbidden.
What happened to the tolerant Malaysia in which we grew up? The nation is now full of racists and religious extremists.
Many decades ago, no one used to mind if people of different faiths were to eat with one another in the privacy of their own homes. Today, Muslims are apprehensive about dining in non-Muslim homes.
No one used to knock on the door of your home or hotel room, demanding to know and prove that you were married to the person you were with. Today, unmarried couples in budget hotels would get an unwelcome visit from the religious police. Others in five-star luxury accommodation are largely left untouched.
Decades ago, you could drink without getting arrested, fined, jailed and flogged. Today, you are hounded on social media, have your face plastered in the papers, and your religious faith is questioned.
So, what happened to the laid-back Malaysia of the past? We are answerable to God, but it seems, to JAKIM too.
Do you recognize the Malaysia of today with a government which thinks it is perfectly normal to hound people like Sajat?
Attempts have been made to force Sajat to return to Malaysia and be prosecuted, but it appears that the authorities appear to drag its feet to extradite fathers who kidnap their own daughters, as in the tragic case of Indira Gandhi’s daughter and former husband.
Sajat’s determination to stand up for herself is an inspiration to the community she represents; but Indira’s convert husband’s action is a story about religion being used to control people.
1. Malay Mail: G25’s take on the manhunt for Nur Sajat
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)