Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Third Gender: Hijra Community in India

In a posh colony in Delhi , huge celebrations are on for welcoming a new born. Sounds of drums fill the air. The best halwai of the city is called. The entire colony is present. But soon the celebration gets interrupted by sounds of repetitive claps. A group clad in sarees , wearing gajra and heavy makeup enters. They , however , have masculine facial features and voice. They danced and blessed the new-born. They then demand a huge amount. The family refused. They threatened to lift their sarees. There was terror on everyone’s face. To everyone’s relief , they were paid. The family was saved from being ‘cursed’.

In India , the hijra culture still exists. Other names are Kinnar , Aravani , Kohjas etc. The population of hijras in India is estimated to be between 50,000 and 1.2 million. Since the hijras are neither true man nor woman , they are a distinct identity. They are secluded and a plethora of stereotypes have been generated for them. There are stories of people raising them in secrecy. This is because they are not accepted by the society. They are left to join the hijra community. The hijra community lives outside the society. They have no respect. They have no right to a dignified life. Law is silent when it comes to recognising them as the third gender. As their gender cannot be identified , they are highly discriminated in terms of access to education, employment and health care. They have no documents as identification proof – driving licence , voter ID , ration card etc. Education is a distant dream. They have no access to decent jobs. Begging and Prostitution are their only means of livelihood. They are also prone to HIV and STDs due to unprotected sexual activities. One out of every third eunuch in Mumbai is HIV+. They donot possess basic human rights. They are often sexually abused. On one hand they are secluded from the society but on the other , they are supposed to be involved in it for endowing blessings. The traditional occupation for hijras is begging for alms when bestowing blessings on new-borns and at weddings. But apart from that, they are not deemed "fit" for any other occupation. But why?

Just because they cannot reproduce, they have no right to live as a human being? There is more to a person than his/her sexuality. No one is destined to be treated as a sub-human being. The hijras are also not happy begging and ‘cursing’ people but the society doesn’t give them any option. We take them from granted. We feel disgusted seeing one. We make fun of them but we never try to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s not important to be a victim to support a cause. They raise their sarees to show their identity. It sounds really disgusting but it’s the society who is to be blamed for this. Development is not just in economic sense. There is also a social dimension to it. Social Development means breaking the stereotypes and creating a just society. Tradition should not pull us back. The hijra culture is not humanistic. It’s not human to discriminate some just because they cannot reproduce. Being developed should mean being rational and humane.

In recent decades , with the growth of India economically , the society has also underwent changes. It’s becoming liberal and rational. The third gender is coming out of the shadows. In 1994 , they were given the right to vote. In 1999, Shabnam Mausi Bano became India's first hijra MLA. In 2003, Hijras in Madhya Pradesh have established their own political party called "Jeeti Jitayi Politics" (JJP). In recent elections , Daya Rani Kinnar , a transsexual activist , stood as an independent candidate from Ghaziabad constituency against Rajnath Singh.

Tamil Nadu became the first state to give recognition to the transgender. In official forms , there is ‘t’ along with ‘m’ and ’f’ in the gender identification column. In Chennai , toilets are being built for the transgendered. Recently a large no. of NGOs have come up to work for the transgendered. Things are changing. But the limits to these changes are our mindsets. There is a need to broaden our mindsets, to make our mindsets more human or more rational. 


  1. Nice observations up there... Of course there is widespread repulsion towards the third sex in this country. The disgust is kinda universal...Maybe this happens largely due to the various ways of 'extortion/blackmail' used by the TG's...Almost anyone who has ever traveled in a train across UP/Bihar must hv had several misadventures of such type. .. The question arises that why cant they think of more ethical and socially acceptable ways of earning their bread?..Do they always hv to resort to the usual 'saree lifting' ways?...Sadly, they hardly hv a choice...Almost no-one will be willing to employ a trans-gender...they virtually hv no right to education,health care,jobs,etc. they hardly hv a voice in the country... Apart from constitutional amendments The only thing that can change the scenario is social awareness...awareness both for us and them... We need to learn that they too are humans and that matters more than any other reason.We should be more tolerant. And the TGs should learn that they should go out of the way to ensure that the society's perception towards them changes. They should revert frm their usual tradition and behave in such a way that the society's apathy towards them decreases. They shouldn't indulge in such activities that will make the general public hate them even more.

  2. I was unaware of the plight and knew only as much as the lay man does. I would say I was not soft-hearted but sure I was not hard-hearted against them.

    Well disgust describes it all. I mean almost everyone feels disgusted and I think it's okay for them to take money on birth/weddings etc. but we won't prefer them knocking the car doors on red-lights.

    I don't know the way out, I just know that people should pay them at weddings/birth so that at least they can enjoy some comforts of life rather than being discriminated as well as living a merciful life with no mercy of others.

    There should be some organizations as well who would treat them as a target section and organize a work-force or a community like they do with poor women. They can do work and that's what should be the immediate step.

    I am not sure when would the disgust be gone but when they start participating as a 'third gender' or a special section they would get some space and then they can move on to be an equal part. We can't straight away go law-bound and even if we get the status this way, they'll face troubles being a real part not just a part like racism is banned by law but not yet gone out of people's mind..

  3. @ vrigu ..ya i agree ..somewhere TGs are themselves responsible for the discrimination . But its coz ..we humans hav the habit of taking things for granted ! we choose what is easy over what is right ! yes ur ryt ..that saree thing is defi disgusting..some of the acts ! bt things r changing ..i hope they start respecting themselves !!

  4. @Rohan
    ur ryt..paying them at weddings and all is fine it has to go too.. coz till we don stop this hijra culture.. nothing is gng to change ! NGOs are working for them ..theres hope! god bless them ..

  5. check these two links :-

    this is the blog of a trasngendered person ..

  6. btw...there was a time when kidnappings by TGs had increased and their was much alarm over this whole thing...over the yars it has been controlled...

    Otehr things taht I've heard is taht TGs have strong groups...if they get to know that a a TG child is born or a TG is living in isolation, they forcefully try and get them in their group!

  7. And we are, andour ancestors, responsible for sidelining the much taht today;s generation take sit for granted that TGs are bad, their not ones to be mingled with or given basic rights!

    This discrimnation should come to an end. Educating the normal(relatively) people and the TGs is very much necessary!! the govt can take steps by making making special schools for TGs as a start and making sure they get employment opportunities(a reason, as you pointed out, for their current strange behaviour) and thier rights! Then, when the society will start accepting them as can allow them to study normally like everyone does and get jobs and live life normally!

    PS: I support the slow step because i don;t think that the larger part of the society will accept any drastic changes....

  8. @Boring pubs
    yes i hav heard the same thing. The kidnapping thing..forced was there. I can say..just like in male&female community,we have devils. Within their community, there are devils too. I think they do it for money. More TGs will mean more money. They maybe doing it also for some sort of revenge!

    The other thing that u mentioned..its also true. I had read an interview where the TG explains this. The person says we have to do it coz the society wont accept them.

    I agree with u...small steps is the solution. The prob is that our Govt doesn't even recognise them!! The least that we can do is to respect them... nt to make fun of them..nt to insult them. Wat else can we do?? suggest..

    Thnx a lot :)

  9. @ Devika..hmm..Don;t know the exact can be for money..for revenge...anything. The psychological impact on Tgs must be immense!

    Adn re small steps...that's all we can do as individuals.. :-| you say, the least we can do is respect them.... It's the Govt's responsibility to take the first come forward and support them....the rest will follow suit... :)...

  10. Hai, Devika,

    Your observations are good. I think 99% Hijras are the victim of forced castration. There is no effective law to curb this heinous crime. Removing a small part makes big difference in the rest his life. I do not know god created such an important organ outside the body?.