The Liberated Hijra
by Fiza Pathan
My name is Fray Dickenson and I am a journalist from California. I’ve been working on various topics for the past thirteen years, especially topics and events taking place that is reshaping Asia.
I’ve always been very confident with all my topics and my research. My boss loves my work and I have a full column all to myself in the periodical that I am working for. The pay is good and the timings are irregular. Most of the time I’m off on another project to China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar etc., and back just to realize that I have to fly off again to another part of Asia with its beautiful varieties of culture and social norms.
However, the day I got a call from my boss to hitch a ride to India to write up on how the Supreme Court of India had recognised transgender as the Third sex or gender, I baffled a bit asked ignorantly.
“What third sex?”
My boss was shocked that I was unaware of this great change that had happened in India, and as a punishment he gave me a whole week to travel all the way to Mumbai (India) to study the Third Sex that lived there, as a cultural feature of the Hindu and Muslim society. When I reached India and got in contact with some NGOs who worked with people of the ‘Third Sex’…I entered the world of the Hijra…a world of bravery, courage and a bit of sadness. In the libraries of these NGOs I read that Members of the third gender have played a prominent role in Indian culture and were once treated with great respect. They find mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures and were written about in the greatest epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
In medieval India too, they played a prominent role in the royal courts of the Mughal emperors and some Hindu rulers. Many of them rose to powerful positions. Their fall from grace started in the 18th Century during the British colonial rule, when the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 categorised the entire transgender community as “criminals”. Since then, no one really trusts transgenders…but things have started to change.
From one of the NGO supervisors whose name was Adjani and was herself a Hijra I learnt that in post-Independence India, the only work a Hijra could do was to beg on the road or turn to prostitution to earn their living. However, since the dawn of this second decade in this millennium, many Hijras have been educated, are working in offices, NGO’s and are uplifting themselves and are educating others about the rights they deserve as not ‘male’ or ‘female’ but as the ‘third sex’ of India. Adjani emphatically told me during our discourse over a cup of tea brewed by her, that although she dressed like a woman and wore make up, that did not mean she wanted to be considered as a woman. Instead, she rather preferred to be known as a Hijra as that liberated her from the shackles of the Indian society, who do not consider any other gender other than their ‘male’ and ‘female’ genders.
Adjani as she sipped her tea with lips painted bright red, informed me that she was a Hijra who had an almost perfect woman’s body except that she had no uterus and did not get her periods. She was therefore turned out of her house as she was considered to be a Hijra.
However, Adjani did not consider this to be a bane on her whole existence. She looked at herself as a creation of God with a different biological makeup…which science and society needed to broaden their minds to comprehend. After our tea, Adjani took me on a tour of many ashrams in Mumbai that now currently care for Hijras, educate them and give them employment opportunities. During my tour, I met a rather pretty young Hijra who called herself ‘Harianaa’.
Harianaa was born a perfect male but in her mind, she always considered herself to be a female. Due to this her family ousted her out of their home and she was picked up by some ruffian males who raped her. The rape shattered her life but not her spirit and so she joined Adjani’s NGO to be educated about her sexuality and her role as a Hijra working for society.
Her rapists were never found nor were they hunted down by the police who do not take Hijras seriously. Besides, they taunted Harianaa saying that maybe they all must have just been having a Gay orgy, for where their narrow minds were concerned ONLY GIRLS GOT RAPED not Hijras.
My research made me stop and think a while about how different the LGBT community was treated in my country compared to that in India. In America we keep on harping over rights for Gays and Lesbians to get married…whereas here in India, Hijras were still trying to make themselves ‘visible’ to the public as human beings. I would go as far as to say that dogs and cats are treated better in California than Hijras are treated in India.
Ganga was another Hijra who I met during my stay in Mumbai. Ganga was born to a posh well to do Hindu family in Mumbai itself but when they realized that she could be transsexual, they dumped her in a dustbin near the hospital where she was born, when Ganga was about two and a half years old. She was then picked up by a Hijra who became her Guru and taught her the ways of the Hijra. It was her Guru who sent her to school and college under the pretext that Ganga was a girl, and Ganga who was a brilliant student, gained her masters in English Literature. However, Ganga also worked as a prostitute at night entertaining her male and gay guests with oral and anal sex. She got out of this when she heard about Adjani’s NGO with the blessings of her Guru who she still keeps contact with.
Adjani, Harianaa and Ganga were all Hijras, each with different experiences but all under one roof to spread the message of equality among all genders.
Being nosy as all journalists have to be, I asked and then literally begged Ganga to take me to her old brothel so that I could interview her Guru and some of the Hijra prostitutes there. When I told her this, she stuck her tongue out in shock and shook her head vigorously. My translator informed me then, that Hijra brothels were hidden areas where hoodlumism was rampant. Rarely are outsiders allowed into this dark world of the Hijra prostitute. However I was adamant and Ganga took me in a burkha to her old brothel. She warned me not to take any pictures and not to unveil myself at all if I wanted to get out of there on my two feet. I followed her orders…but I was disgusted with what I found. Hijras here were living in in-human conditions in filthy shanties with the odour of human excreta diffused throughout the place. Vulgar men came every half an hour to have sex with these Hijras for a throw away prices. Ganga introduced me to her Guru who gave me some dinner after she had said her prayers infront of a statue of the infant Lord Krishna. She told me that when she picked up Ganga from the dustbin, Ganga looked exactly like the infant god.
When we returned from the brothel safe and sound and with our whole selves intact Adjani scolded us for taking such risks as people who were known to pry into this secret world of the prostitute Hijra were at times murdered. Ganga bowed her head in shame while I simply lifted my veil and smiled triumphantly…I had come out of there alive.
The next day I interviewed with the help of Adjani, many Hijras who had ‘come out’ recently and were therefore thrown out of their jobs and families. A Jain Hijra called Milan came out in 2012 and was immediately thrown out of her position as a manager in a prestigious bank. Another Hijra was a teacher but when she declared one day that she was a Hijra, she was thrown out of her job as a teacher from a convent school and her family abandoned her. I also got to interview special Hijra dancers who danced at weddings and at times on the birth of a male son in a family. The variety of these Hijras that I was getting to watch, learn and observe was rewarding and the more I studied them the more I was intrigued about them.
When it was time for me to return to California with my article, Adjani and I hugged each other promising that we would meet again maybe in an India who has started to respect and love their Hijras just the way I have started to love them.
Copyright © 2014 by Fiza Pathan
Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons