By Swati Bisen, GNLU
Editor’s Note: In light of the twentieth century, this paper deals with the current scenario of hijras in India and urges for a new start. It is important to show as to how what populations of India do they constitute and what problems have they gone through due to the gender stratification our society today faces. Also, this paper puts forth case studies of some of the third genders who struggled to achieve success and thus became an inspiration for their people.
With a unique culture spanning thousands of years in South Asia, Hijra’s consider themselves neither male nor female. In ancient India, this “third sex” included barren women, impotent men, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites/intersex. Today “Hijra” (also known in different communities as Kinnar, Jogtas/Jogappas, Khusras) refers to those born male or intersexed who live and dress like women. Many biological male Hijra’s undergo a sacred ritual of castration (“nirvan”) or sex reassignment surgery. There are upwards of 6 million Indians who identify as Hijra, but statistics vary as the population census only includes “male” or “female” categories.1
Hijra’s were once a revered and accepted group in Indian culture. The Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, include eunuchs and characters with both male and female characteristics. They were believed to bring luck and provide special fertility powers. During the Mughal period, eunuchs played an important role in the court administration as royal guards. For centuries, they have performed badhai, or blessings at weddings and births.
Their sanctioned place in Indian culture changed during the British colonial period. Introduced in 1860 and not abolished until 2009, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code outlawed “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Also that year, the Election Commission allowed “other” gender identification. Respected by the Mughals, but considered criminals by British colonisers, today many [Hijra’s] live as sex workers and beggars.
Ostracized by loved ones and harassed constantly by police, Hijra’s instead form small groups for their protection. These groups are led by a “guru” or mother figure. At their best, the groups can be supportive, nurturing and family-like. Out of a necessity to protect themselves, Hijra’s even developed their own language — a mixture of Hindi, Farsi, Urdu and a little Arabic. Most Hijra’s are uneducated and, combined with the discrimination they face; gaining mainstream employment is made almost impossible.
- The country has an estimated 4 million Hijra’s, with communities recorded back more than 4,000 years.
- Maximum number of eunuchs found in Uttar Pradesh state of India with around 5% of the total percentage of state population.
- Number of them found in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan and Delhi are5%, 11.0%, 6.0%, 6.5%, 4.5% and 2.0% of the total percentage of state population respectively.
- Among several hideous measures that they resort to in order to earn money, many of them start working as sex workers which in turn has its own implications. For example, HIV rates are very high among the Hijra community. Statistics vary between 50 and 80 %
- In the current scenario steps have been taken to improve their status.
- Hijra social movements have campaigned for recognition as a third sex, and in 2005, Indian passport application forms were updated with three gender options: M, F, and E (for male, female, and eunuch, respectively) Some Indian languages such as Sanskrit have three gender options. In November 2009, India agreed to list eunuchs and transgender people as “others”, distinct from males and females, in voting rolls and voter identity cards.
- Majority of them belonging to the age of 23, 24, 25, 26 years are dying of diseases or suicide.
- Till date no census has been conducted on the transgender and Hijra community. The mapping exercise is reportedly the first in the world, and indicates that the department’s interventions need to be scaled up four to five times.
- The estimated size of MSM and male sex worker populations in India (latter presumably includes Hijra’s/TG communities) is 2,352,133 and 235,213, respectively.
- A study conducted in a Mumbai STI clinic reported very high HIV seroprevalence of 68% and high syphilis prevalence of 57% among Hijra’s. In Southern India, a study documented a high HIV seroprevalence (18.1%) and Syphilis prevalence (13.6%) among Hijra’s.
STUDIES AND SURVEYS
The studies and surveys which are presented below showcases how the third gender in some ways is still feeling left out among other sexes and in the society at large.
- A study by Kristen schilt and Catherine Connell named “do workplace gender transitions make gender trouble?” was conducted to examine as to what happens when employees are introduced back into workforce. They interviewed 28 such people in Los Angeles, California, Austin and Texas between 2003 and 2005.they found that many co- workers were uncomfortable sharing gender specific areas with the study participants such as bathrooms. Also, participants were excluded from activities and topics that are gender specific as well after the operation such as menstruation with women.
- Another study by Dominic Parrott and john Peterson named “what motivates hate crimes based on sexual orientation? Mediating effects of anger on anti-gay aggression.” In which 135 heterosexual male participants were interviewed to assess sexual prejudice, anger in response to a vignette depicting a non-erotic male. It was found that peer dynamics was a leading cause in anger towards homosexuals.
- A survey was conducted consisting of 10 questions to understand certain opinions in the society. Among 82 participants, 47 were females and 35 male. Age’s between 19 to 44, the questions were designed for participants to answer which gender they feel best fits the category. From the survey it was safely inferred that society only considers two genders and the results show this because all of the answers were male, female and both for which male and female both fit the category.
This section talks about those people who have had their share of struggle and then rose to inspire their people and achieve recognition in the society.
A) SHABNAM MAUSI2:
Shabnam “Mausi” Bano is the first transgender Indian or Hijra to be elected to public office. She was an elected member of the MadhyaPradesh State Legislative Assembly from 1998 to 2003.(Hijra’s were granted voting rights in 1994 in India.) Shabnam Mausi is born in a Brahmin family. Her father was a superintendent of Police.
Shabnam Mausi was elected from the Sohagpur constituency in Madhya Pradesh state of India. Shabnam attended two years of primary schooling, but speaks 12 languages that she has learnt during her travels. As a member of the Legislative Assembly, her agenda includes fighting corruption, unemployment, poverty, and hunger in her constituency. Shabnam Mausi also intends to use her position in the Legislative Assembly to speak out against discrimination of Hijra’s as well as to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS. Shabnam Mausi inspired a lot of Hijra’s in India to take up politics and participate in ‘mainstream activities’ in India, giving up their traditional roles as dancers, prostitutes, and beggars, living on the fringes of Indian society; for example they sometimes attend weddings or the house of a newborn child offering services to ward off bad luck.
In 2003, Hijra’s in Madhya Pradesh have announced establishing their own political party called “Jeeti Jitayi Politics” (JJP), which literally means ‘politics that has already been won’. In 2005, a fiction feature film titled ‘Shabnam Mausi’ was made about her life.. Although she is no longer in public office, Shabnam Mausi continues to participate actively in AIDS/HIV with NGOs and gender activists in India.
B) LAXMI NARAYAN TRIPATHI3
She is a Hijra Guru. She is also spokesperson for the Kinnar community. She is originally from UP, India. Laxmi is a famous dancer, dance instructor, and Hijra guru. She is well-known campaigner and quintessence of elegance and courage faces the reality. She also adopted two grown up child as her kids. In 1979, Laxmi was born in Thane as the eldest child of an orthodox Brahmin duo from Uttar Pradesh. She was very sick in her childhood as she had double pneumonia, typhoid and asthma. In the second standard, Laxmi was enthralled by Bharatanatyam, its costumes, make-up and jewellery. Laxmi was first sexually abused by an acquaintance at the age of 6 years. After some years, Laxmi met Shabina Frances, another Hijra. They became friends and Shabina promised her that she will be her guru if she joined them. Afterwards her journey started and she became one of the Hijra’s.
She is the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the UN. Laxmi has served on the boards of several NGOs which conduct LGBT activist work. In 2002 she became president of the NGO DAI Welfare Society, the first registered and working organization for eunuchs in South Asia.
Edited by Hariharan Kumar
1. Hijras/transgender women in india : HIV, human rights and social exclusion, http://www.undp.org/content/dam/india/docs/hijras_transgender_in_india_hiv_human_rights_and_soci al_exclusion.pdf , last accessed at 10:30 pm on 18/03/2014.
2. Shabnam Mausi bio, http://www.in.com/shabnam-mausi/biography-354850.html , last accessed at 00:58 AM on 19/03/2014.
3. Laxmi narayan tripathi bio, http://www.in.com/laxmi-narayan-tripathi/biography-1870705.htm , last accessed at 11:35 AM on 18/03/2014.