The Hijra Community in India

Posted on March 22, 2012

By Ayush Bhuyan:

Commonly known in south Asia, especially India as Hijras, chakkakhusra in Punjabi and kojja in Telugu, these kinds of transgenders are physiological males who have feminine gender identity. Their presence is recorded as early as the time of Kama Sutra. Also in Mahabharata, Arjun was depicted as a transgender. This has evolved into a distinct community in India. Many hijras live in close communities, each hijra group being led by a leader, the guru. These groups accept the boys who have been disowned by their families or are orphaned. The acceptance into the community involves removal of penis, scrotum and testicles without anaesthetic. However, most of the eunuchs are not castrated.

Some of them also have ambiguous genitalia, and are referred to as the third sex. Some hijras serve as prostitutes for a livelihood. Even recently, in the times that we’d like to call “progressive”, India has seen only very few hijras taking up respectable positions in society. Some hijras may form relationships with men, and even marry, although their marriage is not usually recognized by law or religion. The term hijra has also developed in a derogatory manner due to their low status in the society. Many get their income from performing at ceremonies, begging, or sex work.

Beginning 2006, hijras were engaged to accompany Patna city revenue officials to collect unpaid taxes, receiving a 4 per cent commission. Hijras are often encountered on streets, trains, and other public places demanding money from people. If refused, the hijra would attempt to embarrass the men into giving money, using obscene gestures, profane language and even sexual advances. Hijras also perform religious ceremonies at weddings and at the birth of male babies, involving music, singing, and sexually-suggestive dancing. These are intended to bring good luck and fertility. Although hijras are most often uninvited, the host usually pays the hijras a fee. Many fear the hijras’ curse if they are not appeased, bringing bad luck or infertility, but for the fee they receive, they can bless goodwill and fortune on to the newly born. Hijras are said to be able to do this because, as it is assumed by people, they do not engage in sexual activities, as a result of which they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to either bestow a boon or a bane.

Hijras can also come as an invitee to one’s home, and their wages can be very high. Hijras that perform these services can make a very good living if they work for the upper classes.

During the British rule, this community was listed under the Criminal Tribes List and considered a “criminal community”. The eunuchs were constantly monitored and stigmatized, which prevails even today to some extent, even though the criminal status has been removed. To this day people consider hijras as inappropriate humans and unequal.  Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. They face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law.

The transgender beauty pageant organised sometime back in Mumbai was a major step towards ensuring Human Rights security among transgenders. Many organisations, most of them Non-Governmental Organisations are now emerging in the public sphere, and every day, they press for greater rights to this long-isolated community. Though, in spite of all current advocates of rights for the Hijra community, every day is a struggle for them, as they try to blend into a society where gender identities of only the “conventional” type are heeded.


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