How I Was Taught To Fear ‘Hijras’, And Why We Need More Than Just Legal Rights For Them

Posted on August 29, 2014 in LGBTQ, My Story, Society, Staff Picks, Taboos

By Anusha Batra:

It was forenoon. The doorbell rang. Peeping through the window, I discovered it was a ‘hijra’. When I announced this to my mom, she said ‘Rehne do, bahar matt jao. Darwaza band karlo.’ (Don’t bother, don’t step out. Shut the door). Showing a bit of temerity, when I went outside following my dad, I heard, ‘Kyun sahib, hijre ko apne ghar ke aangan mein dekh ke naraz ho gaye?’ (What is the matter sir, are you upset to see a hijra in your courtyard?). My dad maintained his composure and chose to ignore the comment. We came back inside and shut the door. A couple of minutes later, my sister came downstairs, asking who had rung the bell. Outrageous as it may now seem, I heard the words, ‘A transgender. Wish to address his woes?’ crawl out of my mouth, almost impulsively.

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Discomfited with myself at my impromptu, yet unwarranted reply, and ashamed of the human psyche that I had just yielded to, a plethora of thoughts rocked my head as I descended into introspection.

Less than two months ago, in the examination hall of one of the entrance exams that I had taken, I was faced with a question demanding an essay on the recognition of a transgender person as the third gender. As a keen aspirant, I had hailed and applauded the Supreme Court Judgement recognising the rights of transgender people, dated April 15, 2014, as an all mighty and landmark in the history of Indian judiciary. I did definitely succeed to secure a seat at that institute, yet my act today failed me, as a human being, and brought to naught all the sensitivity that I, until now, had pretended to show on paper. The barrage of emotions that had been troubling me, were already taking their toll.

Time and again, we have all heard utterances like ‘What a pitiable creature, must have been punished for a past life karma, such a miserable life he has written to his fate.’ Yet what we fail to realise is: What has made the condition of this community so deplorable? I remember when I was young, I was really scared of this ‘third gender’. Reason being, I had heard from somewhere that they take small children with themselves and “make them like their own”. As a kid, I bought this story. And mine was no lone case. All my peers had similar versions.

Thus, as children, we were conditioned into believing that the hijra community was more like a community of shenanigans, thieves, kidnappers, or some wayward ruffians who took to a scuffle at the slightest provocation. And we were taught to be wary of them, ignore them, look down upon them and close our doors on them. And this was no different from how we saw our elders behave with them, with absolutely no consideration or compassion.

The transgender community has faced extreme forms of violence for not confirming to socially dictated gender identities, often within their own families and communities where they face abuse, discrimination, disinheritance and abandonment. One thus hopes that the Supreme Court verdict brings some much needed change.

The recent judgement delivered by the Apex Court, giving this community a much desired and deserved legal status, was hailed by one and all as ‘a courageous decision that embeds the rights of the transgender persons primarily within the right to equality in the Indian Constitution’. The Court rightly maintained that the lack of recognition of their gender identity curbs their inalienable rights as access to education, healthcare and public places and results in discrimination on several grounds like contesting elections, securing employment, getting access to important documents like driving license, etc. While the premise on which the judiciary constructed this historic verdict was primarily concerned with how gender identity is not necessarily biologically determined, and that ‘the individual’s experience of gender is one of the most fundamental aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom’, yet it cannot be called a victory in totality, as it is missing an essential ingredient.

It has been clearly articulated by the judicial machinery that transgender persons should not be treated with cruelty, pity or charity, but, the bigger question is: Can we bring about the paradigm shift towards a rights based approach where we accept everyone as humans first, without labels?

The epidemic that plagues our society is that of a retrograde psyche and a malaised mental makeup, which is totally unaccepting of accommodating so-called ‘abnormalities’. One cannot expect a complete overhaul in social attitudes overnight, but we must also remember that Indians, prior to colonisation, had a history of social inclusivity.

I chanced to read this somewhere, ‘Just as law can manufacture intolerance, it can also create gradual social acceptance.’ And probably, this is what the Apex Court has been counting on, in delivering this verdict. We, as a human society, should be accommodating, not just in letter but also in spirit, where the rights of the transgender community are recognised not just legally, but more importantly, socially as well.

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