Bangladesh’s first school for trans persons opens in Dhaka

Bangladesh opened its first madrassa for transgender persons in November 2020, reports Nikkei Asia. Over 100 students of any age can study in the non-residential Islamic school, “Dawatul Quran Third Gender Madrasa” at Lohar Bridge Dhal in Kamrangirchar, Dhaka. In the first school established for hijras in the country, the first batch of students were taking lessons not only in the Quran, but also in Bengali, English, math and social sciences. The madrassa, follows its own Qwami curriculum that is not regulated by the education board of Bangladesh.

Some 40 trans persons joined on the first day. Riya, one of the student in the school said "We didn't get the chance to get an education in regular school or madrassa. Society ostracized us. Now, I am ecstatic to get that chance." Some 26 years after she was forced out of school, Riya recently found herself in a room with 20 others like herself, reciting Quranic verses. The room, at the top of a three-story building in the impoverished neighborhood of Kamrangir Char, was abuzz with the sounds of students learning.

The school is an initiative of Imam Abdur Rahman Azad, now also the principal of the Dawatul Quran Third Sex Madrassa. The 40-year-old cleric began by giving lessons to some hijras in a mosque in Kamrangir Char. Soon, his teaching program was spread to six mosques in the capital after like-minded clerics agreed to do the same for hijras. "They are born this way. We, society and state, keep them away, out of our own social stigma. We have to remember that Allah doesn't discriminate among his creatures," Azad told Nikkei Asia.

Azad was able to realize his vision of setting up a permanent base and a formal institution after he secured funding from Rihanul Bari Chowdhury, a top-ranking army officer and the son of a wealthy business owner. Government data show that there are around 11,000 hijras in the country although some private organizations estimate that the number could be as high as 50,000.Hijras tend to live in small communities under the guidance of a guru they pay to provide them some form of security, shelter and basic necessities. Gurus, who are also hijras, tend to take on the roles of mother, spiritual leader, and sometimes pimp to their wards.

Hashu, a 52-year-old guru in the Kamrangir Char area who has sent hijras to the madrassa, said, "I wanted to set an example in front of other gurus and want them to send their chelas (disciples) to the madrassa as well." In 2013, Bangladesh officially recognized hijras as the third gender and some five years later, allowed them to vote and even run for office.

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