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

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.


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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  1. Rutika

    The article is not only commendable, it is highly thought provoking. Our generation claims to be open-minded and interrogative when to comes to blindly following what has been passed on to us about the social norms and yet we are nothing but well-educated orthodoxes. We fail to act upon things in spite of knowing that it is wrong. I am no different than you or many other readers here; I had participated in discussions and applauded the government for the act. But now I feel like a hypocrite! I have also shied away from these transgenders in mumbai locals and talked ill about them when they forced themselves into the house to claim money on marriages and child births. Now I realise we have forced them into such a life where they are compelled into doing so all the while being demeaned and humiliated. Thank you for the article because now I can choose to be different and treat them the way they ought to be treated- with lots of respect and love!

    1. Anusha Batra

      Thank you Rutika! This malady, in some way or the other, afflicts our entire generation. I’m really glad this article has succeeded in spreading the required consciousness.

  2. Rakesh Kumar

    Certainly a thought provoking Article. Our biases against the eunuchs and transgenders are so deep rooted in the society that it will certainly require more than a Supreme Court verdict to give them even half of their rights.The biggest problem is that these biases have been institutionalized in our mindsets by our near and the dear ones over the years.
    Your article certainly strikes at the core of the issue that mere recognition of transgenders as the third gender is not going to be panacea of all of their problem,it has to be just the beginning of it. The society at the end of the day have to be more embracing and accepting of them as a gender.Then only they will get their right and the deserved place in the society.

    1. Anusha Batra

      Absolutely. These biases are a societal construct. And thus, the onus lies on the society, to make amends to what has been wronged by them. Beginning with granting this community, the due acceptance, and putting an end to the whole stigmatizing business.

  3. Kalki Subramaniam

    Thank you for the depth and clarity in writing about us transgender people and our issues. More than 60% of the transgender people have thought about committing suicide owing to non-acceptance and discrimination in family and the society. We have worked hard to bring this legal acceptance. Still a long way to go.
    -Kalki Subramaniam-
    Transgender Rights Activist

    1. Anusha Batra

      Heartiest Congratulations on the first victory! It is, without doubt, suggestive of the change in the mental makeup and attitude of the people. The road to social acceptance doesn’t seem that distant now.

    2. babubiswa

      Hey Kalki! Congrats on that front. How about educating them not to extort money in trains. I did have a soft spot for these oppressed (when I didn’t have much contact with them). Now that I have to travel frequently, I encounter these people (extortionists) on daily basis. I agree that they have been denied a proper social status, but that doesn’t mean they can harass and extort money from me.

  4. Mohit Agrawal

    I think problem with our society is that we are obsessed with homogenizing things. We want to categorize things in simple order like in case of gender we try to fit all humans in two category like male and female. But truth is that all these categories are human construct so why can not we broaden our view by recognizing them.

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