My grandmother used to tell me tales when I sat by her ailing bedside as a child. Legends mostly. Sometimes it was about Christ the savior and Krishna the messiah, sometimes about the Virgin Mary, and sometimes about Vishnu’s infinite variety. One story was about the Ardhnarishwar. Half male, half female. Shiva and Shakti. Symbols of Purush and Prakriti. The male and female principles united in one body. And Hindus worshipped this manifestation.
I grew up, like many others, however, fearing the ‘curse’ of the Hijra. “Pay them whatever they ask for”, an old aunt had warned me. They can be foul-mouthed otherwise. They are vicious. They curse you.
I relocated to Delhi in 2011. I had led a rather cloistered life prior to that. Sheltered in every way a girl can be sheltered. One evening, my auto stopped at the traffic signal near IIT-D. I was accosted by a member of the dreaded Hijra community. “Kuchh dedo, Didi (give me something, sister)”, this person with stunningly beautiful eyes had said to me. I took out a 50 rupee note from my purse. “Itne se nahi hoga, Didi. Kam se kam se kam 100 toh do! (this isn’t enough; give me a hundred rupees at least)”. I had smiled a feeble smile and said, “Abhi meri scholarship nahi aayi hai; iss baar please itna hi le lijiye! (I haven’t received my scholarship yet; please make do with this much today)”. Srishti (name changed on request) laughed at me and joked, “Haai Allah, itne pyaar se bologi toh zeher bhi le lenge tumse! (Good lord, I’d even accept poison from someone who speaks to me so lovingly)”. I had winked at those eyes and said, “Arrey, arrey, aap toh bade nautanki ho! (you’re quite a dramaqueen)”.
That evening, the auto drove away as the signal turned green. Later, the man driving the auto said to me in surprise, “Madam ji aap toh padhe likhe lagte ho. Maine kabhi kisi ko kisi hijra ke sath aise baat karte nahi suna. Kuchh log toh muh pe chilla dete hain. Kuchh chup chaap seh lete hain. Aap toh aise baat kar rahe the jaise koi purana dost ho! (Ma’am, you look educated to me. I’ve never seen anyone talk to a eunuch like this before. Some people scream at them, others silently suffer them. You, however, got talking as if this person were an old friend)”. I’ve seen Srishti at that signal several times after that. Sometimes, I’ve given her a hundred rupees, sometimes only ten and sometimes just a smile. I saw her last night as well, on my my way to INA Market. I was with a friend in the auto this time. I gave her 20. My friend exclaimed, “Oh how did you manage to appease with that little?”. It is hardly a question of appeasement, I think. It is a question of acceptance.
India, as I have always maintained, is a land of contradictions. On the one hand we hail the Ardhanarishwar, on the other the Hijra community bears the brunt of all our fears and innate disgust.
My write-up has a context. The context is that of Trilokpuri. This place, tucked away in East Delhi, erupted like a dormant volcano during Diwali. Amidst the bursting crackers, fireworks of hatred spread. Muslims and Hindus engaged in communal violence in the constructed secular space of the nation’s capital. That these episodes, recurring every once in a while to taint and bloody the history of independent India, is rather unfortunate, but pointing that out is not the purpose of this article. This article wants to direct your attention to those fifteen or so eunuchs who blocked the gates of Block-B, Trilokpuri, in their attempts to stop the angry mob from entering the colony and wrecking more havoc.
I have often been told how eunuchs “thrust” their sexuality on people’s faces — a vile tactic, according to some, to extract money. On that fateful day too, the eunuchs at Trilokpuri threatened to “thrust” their alternate sexuality on this mob and the consequence that such a threat had on the crowd is remarkable. The Hijras stood guard outside the gate and cautioned the violent mob, armed with swords, lathis and stones, that they would take their clothes off if the mob proceeded any further. The illogical fear of, or inexplicable disgust towards, the third gender that makes people cough up money also made the mob stop this time. Newspaper reports suggest that this same group of eunuchs has taken turns to sit guard by the gates since the eventful day; they have also apparently undertaken a cleanliness drive, brooming away shards of glass scattered on the roads to make the streets more walkable.
The irony of the incident is profound. How our intensely sectarian society reacts to this, and responds to it, should be worth watching.
A person is born a certain way. To be afraid of or disgusted by another’s gender and/or sexuality falls in the same category of insensitivity as being afraid of or disgusted by another’s body shape, size or colour. And such crimes of insensitivity are what this country needs to train itself to not commit.
Tolerance is not what the world needs. The word is ‘acknowledgement’. Appeasement is not our demand, acceptance is.