Who in India hasn’t encountered these clapping, lewd “female” looking presumably males? Indian hijras are a right menace in most public areas, traffic signals, parks, even homes, if they catch wind of celebrations happening. What is this scene really? Who are these people?
Obviously, they are men, dressed as women, but what is behind that obvious first experience?
Eunuchs have traditionally been guardians of harems, in the times of kings, as I recall from some ancient books. So they seem to have existed for a long time. Many people believe blessings and curses from castrated hijras to be particularly potent, so that gives them a chance to make a living out on the streets in a glorified form of begging, peddling their good wishes and threatening with curses to get money from people passing. Others get together as a group with musical instruments and fancy clothes and perform song and dance routines at weddings and other auspicious occasions and earn slightly better. Still others work as prostitutes.
Until I had the fortune to meet some really interesting people among them, I really hadn’t spared them a thought beyond fury if they tried to get pushy with me. Then I met Geeta, and recently, Anjali and Sunita. I came to know the people behind these threatening personalities. They work toward bringing reform in the lives of the transgender community, as they like to refer to themselves with respect.
I learned about the difficulties their lives are faced with all the time. Particularly touching was once, when Noorie said that when in a rickshaw with a girl she preferred to be dropped home first, as if she got molested, no one would come to her help, and even the cops might molest her for complaining.
Another was when Sowmya spoke of the love she has for her sister and family that she is unable to express and be close with them, because society drives prejudices in the way. Aarti remembers being harassed even as a child, for being “delicate”. Stories pour out of shattered hearts when they find someone who cares. As though the telling and being heard itself allows them to be human in that moment. Horrifying tales of abuse, exploitation, betrayal, abandonment… are the norm. I have yet to meet one who wasn’t traumatized. Who bore the weight of being herself like an extra limb inserting itself between her and the world.
This seems to be a common factor. Some times in their teenage years, they discovered that they weren’t really interested in girls as much as in boys, and identified with women better than with men. Acting on these impulses, and even becoming aware of them, intensified them, and they soon started seeming obviously “different”. Soon, there remained little choice but to leave their homes and join trans-gender communities and be among people like them, because others rarely would accept them.
In rare cases, their genitals are not “properly male” and in others, pursuing a profession like prostitution makes them undesirable. They are then castrated in some “home treatment” fashion, rarely in a hygienic manner, or with the benefit of anesthetic. The idea is to look as female as they can. Not all hijaras are castrated, though many are. This also creates other hormonal imbalances that they need medical help with. Few doctors are willing to entertain them.
Transgenders face a whole load of problems in their lives – from practical respect and acceptance problems, to finding accommodation and occupations beyond begging and prostitution. In a world where forms give you options of male and female, they have no box to tick. Ration cards and passports are problems. Claiming justice is a problem. Self-esteem and assertiveness is a problem for all their loud body language. Health care and AIDS is a huge problem. The bottom line is money and survival.
A touching look at the legal, social and religious aspects of being a hijra can be cound in this article
If we want less of “these hijras” harrassing us on the streets, we also need to be willing to be ok with them in other areas when they are working honestly. Who cares if a web designer is male or female or transgender? Or someone working in an office, or a reception person, or a tailor? It is silly inhibitions and a fear of the unknown that keeps us from even sparing them a second glance. We keep our distance with our contempt and hide our fear behind our aloof masks.
Some interesting means of employment and income are slowly creeping into public consciousness. Films employ transgenders to do their usual lewd routines, which earns them decent money, but is hated by many as an insensitive showcase of their plight, and reinforcing their image in the mainstream society as not particularly appealing individuals. Using their song and dance routines to collect over due taxes from defaulters follows the same lines, but firmly projects them as people working on the side of “the good” and seems to be getting interesting results as seen here.
Still, it is occupation rooted in the revulsion society feels for them. Most people pay to be rid of them. The insult is soul searing. For the sole crime of being different. Depression and addictions as escape are common. As are clients who may love them for years but never walk down a street with them, let alone marry.
What we all are – humans is wrapped in so many layers of prejudice and bigotry that there is no awareness of them as people with lives and feelings. There is a need to see them for who they are, to employ and engage them for their skills and qualities rather than perversion. Perhaps, once we are able to see them as constructive workers, we might be able to offer them work beyond embarrassing people into paying money.
Luckily, there are organizations working with them. Some have even been started by educated transgender professionals to reach out to others like them. I suggest that we as people make that special effort not to cringe and turn away, but to deal with them as normally as we can, and see if we really like or dislike them, like we do with any other person. Not all of them are charming, and not all of them are bad. Can we look at the people more than their appearances?
*names changed to respect privacy
Edit: As routine maintenance of this site, I sometimes check to see what people are searching for, when they land up here. Many visitors from Europe land up here searching for conditions of this community, or information on what they are. The most popular search from India is “photo boy castrated India”. I find it sad that the leading interest in them is still morbid sexual curiosity. Very few searches from India actually have words that are asking about the people very few Indians really know. It is a long and uphill struggle.