By Tushar Malica:
Hijras, chakkas, transsexuals, eunuchs and many more. Transgenders have been referred by different names in different times over different regions. They are neither male nor female. They are the third sex. These wide range of expressions are used to refer to people who are born with ambiguous genitilia or are sexually neutral due to castration or physiologically males who have feminine gender identity. Their mention as the ‘tritya prakriti’ (third gender) dates back to the times of ‘Kamasutra’. They have endured many trials and tribulations through the British rule when Britishers attempted to eradicate their kind of people and consequently hijras were categorized as a ‘criminal tribe’ under ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ of 1871. Since then the stigma exists.
Transgenders in India hold a very complex position in the society. In fact, they have never been quite identified as a part of India till recently when Tamil Nadu became the first state to include their gender option as ‘T’ in ration cards in 2008 and give them the option of a free sex-change operation. Transsexuals were granted with their right to vote only in 1994. Also, the election commission now recognizes the gender under the ‘others’ category only after a transgender was elected as a mayor in Katni, Madhya Pradesh which had to be nullified due to gender issues.
Transsexuals usually live in communal groups headed by a ‘guru’ due to no support provided and subsequent abandonment by their biological parents. They are thought to be carriers of AIDS, sex workers and criminals. Often they are subjected to public humiliation and embarrassment by the police every now and then. Though, they have been considered to have clairvoyance and the gift to grant a boon or a curse to people, with the times they have acquired an image of being an extortionist. When not given money they have been seen resorting to profanity and unacceptable behavior- the primary reason why masses never not give them cash when asked for. Due to the stigmatization and consequent banishment from society, the transgenders have a tough life. They do not enjoy the fundamental rights that a general male or female does. Due to their neglected existence they have very few employment opportunities.
They usually make a living out of performing in ceremonies like weddings, begging and sex work. Their children are not given admissions in educational institutions easily. Nor do they have any kind of reservation in spite of being economically backward and a socially minor group. With very few places to live and no place to work and earn, transgenders usually belong to the lowest strata of the society. Their status in the society is evident with the fact that the term ‘hijra’ is always used in a derogatory manner, almost a profanity.
There are various NGOs which have been working for the upliftment of transgenders. Some of them provide professional training to financially empower them. But these small steps will become effective only when people have more open-minded approach towards them. Till the time they are looked down upon and the ‘third sex’ does not come at par with the remaining two sexes, transgenders will continue to live a life full of ignorance, negligence and hushed voices around them wherever they go.