When I heard about the government banning the film Joyland - even after it was declared fit to be screened by three censor boards - the late Saqi Farooqui's Urdu poem 'Mastaana Heejra' [The Carefree Transperson] began echoing in my mind.

Farooqui begins the poem with his signature playfulness and brings in sensual innuendos before the verses take a tragic final turn. The last two lines sum up the treatment meted out to transgender persons and their existential suffering: 'Aur main zameer-i-aalam ke tang maqbaray mein/ Zinda gara hua hoon' [In the narrow grave of people's conscience/ I am buried alive].

Joyland has already won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at the Cannes International Film Festival and, ironically, is Pakistan's official entry in the international films category for the Oscar awards. As in the case of the film Zindagi Tamasha [Circus of Life], banned a couple of years ago, those who have participated in running a smear campaign against Joyland have not watched it, since it has not yet been released in Pakistan.

The argument against the film by its critics is that it stands against our values, because it purportedly shows a man falling in love with a transperson. I don't know if this is true since, like the critics, I haven't seen it yet and the film must have a lot more to offer in terms of both drama and detail. But to flatly deny things happening around you, and then take a high moral pedestal to judge others, is the favourite pastime of our religious right and its vested interests, articulated through its political outfits.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of the Jamaat-i-Islami thinks that the film promotes homosexuality and harms Pakistani values. On the same pretext, Senator Khan was equally vocal against the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018, which the incumbent government has agreed to revise under pressure from hardliners.

There are a few things that need consideration here. First of all, what are Pakistani values and who determines their imposition on us collectively? Second, regarding those who have taken upon themselves to be the custodians of these values, what have they done for the protection of children in madressahs and seminaries and for the safety of transpersons who are beaten, raped and killed on a regular basis? Just to remind the senator: the province he represents is where transpersons are continuously being targeted for the last few years.

It seems things are going from bad to worse...

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