Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Curse of the Hijras

No I am not talking about the wrath of a hijra if you deny them money. I'm talking about the pain they have become for others in the society. And the pain of ostracism by us they suffer from for being who they are.

People of India, especially in big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, have seen them roaming the streets on a regular basis. In Delhi they plague college students chilling at bus stops or in parks. In Mumbai they hound you at traffic signals. Be it a wedding or the birth of a son, they always barge in uninvited, gyrating provocatively, asking for money in return for their blessings and threatening to curse if not paid. It is not just families but even businessmen who have to face the ire of the hijras: every time they open a new shop or office, these garishly dressed groups demand money for not displaying their privates and embarrassing everyone.

Usually they are garishly dressed in women's clothing, with over-the-top makeup and hair; and talk/sing/behave in a peculiar manner, all of which ends up being repulsive or fearful for the rest of the society. They are aggressive, pestering and often touch you to extract money. This adds to the disgust people feel towards them and exacerbate the anti-hijra sentiment within the society. I must admit I am one of those people who generally avoid any encounters with them and shrink away while rolling up the car windows when I see them approaching.

I was thinking about them the other day so I thought I'd do some research.

Identified as the 'third sex' as early as the time of Kamasutra, the Hijras in India coveted an important position during the Mughal times. Thanks to their asexuality they were deemed the best companions for the queens and other women, and since they had no loyalties or families they were neutral and wise consul to the kings. However, during British Raj, they began to be seen as indecent and criminals. While a lot of anti-hijra laws have been repealed, the stigma remains till date.

As a result, today the community is marginalised with no legal or social status in the society. They live in poor conditions in cordoned off areas and work as beggars and sex workers for a living. Some lucky ones get money from households during festivities and occasions by dancing and giving boons to newly wed couples and new parents.They face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, law due to their inability to be placed into male or female gender categories. It is a sad state of affairs, and even though today there are a lot of NGOs working for their upliftment and empowerment, and lobbying for the introduction of the third sex legally in teh society, there is still a long way to go.

Which makes me wonder.. Hijras consist of 3 types of people: those who are intersexed (having ambiguous genetalia), males who are castrated, and males who identify themselves as women and dress and behave accordingly (though physically they are males). I understand those who are born a certain way to embrace this culture. But for transgender people, why would they choose to join the hijra community? Dont they see the ostracism, the disgust people associate with the community? Dont they see prostitution puts them at major risk for many fatal STDs? Dont they see examples of people like Sylvie, the hair stylist or Bobby darling the actress who went through a lot of struggle but were determined to do something more with their life? There are cases of people standing for election elections. Many hijras have been employed in beauty salons, where thye work with respect like any other person. Dont the hijras want to do something for their improvement? Or are they satisfied with easy ways of making money by dancing or begging?

I dont know, maybe it is easy for me to say, that they should be more involved in making their own lives better. I know its not simple It needs massive changes in the way the society perceived them, and more so in teh way they perceive themselves. If only they were willing to believe they could do better with their lives than begging or prostitution; and if only we gave a chance to them to be more. But I do hope for their sake and ours, such times come soon.


virtualradhika said...

I too wonder sometimes if they really do want to improve their social and economic standing in the society..i mean if they would stop behaving in the manners they do may be people will be more accepting..i wuld not mind if a person from the third sex wuld work for me or with me...but i feel this change that this community wants to see in the society towards them has be begin with them..if they start to behave in a more normal manner then people and the society will come around eventually..

Aditi Varma said...

I completely agree with you radhika... my thoughts exactly... even i wouldnt mind a third gender person working or studying with me. as long as they see themselves as part of society and integrate themselves with respect, im sure their acceptance will improve!

Anonymous said...

The discrimination towards "eunuchs" or "Hijaras" is not new in modern India. During the British Raj, authorities attempted to eradicate eunuchs, citing them as a breach of public decency. Eunuchs were labelled as criminal tribe and were placed under the Criminals Tribe Act, 1871. They were subjected to compulsory registration, monitoring and stigmatized. However, on a positive note, independent India denotified this in 1952; still the century-old stigma continues which labels the hijra
only as a social role and not as a “third sex”.

Good post. Keep writing.

Aditi Varma said...

thanks for visiting!

Unknown said...

I feel it is a two way thing. If a child is born to a family of the third sex, they are scared of what the society will think and give it up to these people's groups. Even the employers or education institutions only mention two genders. If our society also provides them with some dignified chances, I am sure things will change. It is like saying why dont women work for their upliftment but even if they try beyond a point they are curbed. It has to come from both sides. They need positive vibes from us and need to feel secure too.

Aditi Varma said...

Totally agree