The Hijra Subculture: India's Transvestites
In the days following the Malegaon blasts and the one in Nanded before that, Bjarang Dal activists and leaders have been head to say one sentence in particular – that in the midst of rising Muslim militancy and terrorism, Hindus can not be expected to stand by like hijras and remain passive spectators ? Whether terrorists have a religion or not is another conversation, but unfortunately a large number of terrorists of various shades are claiming to be so!
(Ed. For the uninitiated, according to Wikipedia hijras are "usually considered a member of "the third gender" — neither man nor woman." Most are transgendered men who dress and act like women.)
Actually that comment is rather an insult to hijras - what sin did they commit, do get an association with people who go around with death and destruction as their companions? Hijras might be a bloody nuisance on the streets with their obscene gestures and garish makeup but what else they can do? – marginalized and outside the radar of main stream society and devoid of any meaningful employment opportunities, purveying cheap entertainment at weddings and birth day parties is all that they can manage to do any way.
The population of hijras in India is estimated to be between 50,000 and 1.2 million. There is a huge disparity in the numbers because population censuses only give space to define either males or females. There are no reliable statistics.Tamil Nadu in a path breaking move has come to recognize transgeneders – (the term itself is no monolith as transgender is more of an umbrella term).
The word hijra is an Urdu word meaning eunuch or hermaphrodite. However, in reality, hijras are very diverse and most join the community as young boys. Hijras consist of hermaphrodites, as well as women who are unable to menstruate and lead the “normal” female life which consists of getting married and producing children. However, a great number of hijras are men who identify themselves as more feminine than masculine, mostly because their sexual desire is for men and not women.
In Indian culture, although hijras are frequently invited to dance at weddings and celebrations marking the arrival of a first-born and many believe in the potency of the curse they hurl at guests who don’t offer tips. Yet despite their ritual significance, hijras are among the most socially disadvantaged group in India. Ostracised by their families, many organise themselves into communities, which rely on begging. In big cities, it’s not uncommon to see sari-clad hijras panhandling. Sex work is also a major source of income, and rates of HIV among hijras are disproportionately high.
As with homosexuals, The State has a stiff upper lip when it comes to sexual minorities and it is a really stifling place for transsexuals, although unlike homo sexuals, they are not criminally hounded As a result, transsexual people either migrated to other States where there are social spaces for them, or lived anonymously and invisibly in their personal hells
Hijras were granted voting rights in India as late as 1994 and a few hijras like Shabnam Mausi have been elected to public office (Shabnam Mausi was an MLA in Madhya Pradesh from 1998 to 1993 but that has done nothing to rehabilitate the community. The British rulers in India regarded them as a menace to society and stripped the hijras of the laws that granted them the protection they received under Muslim rulers in pre British India and the social tolerance that they received till then gradually disappeared.
And so while a Shabnam Mausi here enters a State Legislature and a Rose Venkatesan there runs a television talk show on main stream Tamil television, the bulk of them still remain the subject of derision and mockery by “virile” leaders like those of the Bajrang Dal till progressive voices become loud enough to be heard above the diin.
Tags: Tamil Nadu , Hijra , Hindu , Muslim , Malegaon , Bajrang Dal
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