Transgender Community In India : Past

Transgender is a term used to describe the people whose gender identity and expression does not match the sex determined at birth. A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born. A transgender man lives as a man today, but was thought to be female when he was born.

Historically, transgenders were based in Hinduism and they performed solely for Hindus but they were not all Hindu themselves.  Many of them were were Muslims and a few were Christians too.  In fact, some transgenders followed the beliefs and practices of both Hinduism and Islam.  Just as they were not limited by binary views of gender, some were not limited by a single religious tradition.

They were expected to perform dances, songs, and blessings at both births and weddings of Hindus.  To many Hindus, a transgender’s blessings of a baby would confer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child.  One to two days after a marriage ceremony—transgenders would perform to bless the couple for fertility. They could also curse a family if they were disrespectful or refused to pay for the blessings.  Many Hindus and the transgenders themselves, took these blessings and curses very seriously.

While transgenders were often invited to perform these rituals, they would also attend births and marriages unannounced claiming their right to attend as their sacred religious duty.  Fearful of receiving a curse from transgenders, Hindu families often welcomed them in and paid them for their services even when uninvited.  However, sometimes Hindu families refused them entry or refused to pay, even went as far as calling the police.  Still the cultural authority of the hijra was so powerful that the police would often do nothing to remove them.  Transgenders were treated with both respect and fear.

Under the Mughal rule, transgenders were called Khawjasaras which was a designation of respect and dignity. Transgenders were employed as security officials in charge of female quarters. This role was assigned to transgenders in imitation of their historic role in holy cities where they served as facilitators between men and women performing prayers and pilgrimage. In most parts of the Muslim world, transgenders commanded respect and were considered holy and special in the eyes of God.

They served as courtiers and councils, giving advice to princes and princesses. They were familiar with court etiquettes and knew the secret workings of Mughal households. They were domestic insiders. Having the controls of intelligence officers and the prestige of royal confidantes, transgenders enjoyed special powers and privileges unavailable even to the most powerful wazirs (ministers) of the kingdom. They were educated in statecraft and nuances of religion. This treatment and elevation in the Mughal courts provided a great incentive for non-Muslim transgenders to accept Islam.

The spirituality of transgenders was considered as authentic as that of men and women. The Prophet of Islam treated transgenders with respect, prohibited their ill-treatment and had good things to say about spiritually-inclined transgenders. Believing that transgenders are dearer to God, some Muslim rulers appointed them as intercessors in royal palaces.

In the beginning of the British period in Indian subcontinent, hijra used to accept protections and benefits by some Indian states through entry into the hijra community. Furthermore, the benefits incorporated the provision of land, rights of food and smaller amount of money from agricultural households in exact area were ultimately removed through British legislation because the land was not inherited through blood relations.

Through the onset of colonial rule from the 18th century onwards, the situation changed drastically. Accounts of early European travelers showed that they were repulsed by the sight of Hijras and could not comprehend why they were given so much respect in the royal courts and other institutions.

In the second half of the 19th century, the British colonial administration vigorously sought to criminalize the hijra community and to deny them the civil rights. This was on the basis of Christian beliefs on gender. Ethnocentrism is very much visible in this context. Hijras were considered to be separate caste or tribe in different parts of India by the colonial administration. The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, instructed colonial authorities to arrest all hijra who were concerned in kidnapping, castrating children and dressed like women to dance in public places. The punishment for such activities was up to two years imprisonment and a fine or both. This pre-partition history influences the vulnerable circumstances of hijra in this contemporary India.

Transgender

Transgender is the Third Gender basically, who is not a male type or a female type. Transgender is defined as denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal. Identity and gender do not correspond with their birth sex. A Transgender is a person who is unable to fit himself in any of the two categories specified beforehand, a Transgender right also comes under the concept of Gender Equality. They very much belong to our society, to our lifestyle, but the fact here is they are not widely accepted yet. People literally hate them or harass them for choosing their own likings over the “society norms” created. They also are human beings, just like us, nothing inferior. It is just that they practically loves themselves just the way they are, they shall be strong enough to be proud of their own skin. It is our duty to stand by their virtue, no matter what. It has been seen that they face a lot of social difficulties everyday. They do not get to live by common people, they are isolated from their residence and they had to form a separate community of their own for survival, especially known as LGBT Community. Right from birth, they are not treated as “Normal” and are repetitively pressurized to choose one amongst the two genders. People yet, in this generation aren’t ready to believe that there can be a third gender as well. But fitting into somewhat stereotyped categories is a must for the people, especially in India. They were not allowed to have proper sanitization, worst thing is that they do not have a separate washroom. They aren’t being taught in schools on colleges, hence education for them is a luxury. They do not even get proper food to sustain themselves. We can see the “transgender” begging for food, it is so heartbreaking to see that how much sorrows they face, yet holds smile on their face. No person has control over their choices, earlier as well several paintings has depicted the onset of “transgender” people. Sadly, they haven’t got their recognition yet and fighting day and night for their freedom. They just seek a life where they won’t be judged, or questioned or made fun of being a transgender. But we, the educated class of people disagree and contest against their liberty. Their privilege are snatched away by the ‘commoners’ around them. They do not get enough opportunities to pursue their talents. The most traumatic experience they face is regarding work places. It is rare that a transgender is working as an official even if that person is competent enough. Transgender community should not be deprived of their own equity or justice. It is so difficult for third-gender child to confess his inner feelings to his family of that sort because the family isn’t in a position to realize his situation, moreover try to brainwash the child for worse. The parents do not remain as a support system to them anymore, they just feel upset and betrayed of the “choice” the child has made. Secondly, choosing aa partner for one self is really difficult, because taking about this on the society is treated almost as a ‘crime’. That person is basically termed as “spoiled” and suffers a lot from loneliness and depressions. It is no way his “Fault”.

Sec 377 in IPC states that, whoever voluntarily has carnel intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years or with a death penalty, and shall also be liable to fine.According to The Times of India, The Supreme Court of India on September 6, 2018 decriminalized Section 377 making Gay Sex legal. The SC in its verdict mentioned that consensual sex between adults in private places which is not harmful to women or children, cannot be denied as it is a matter of individual choice. The apex court partially strikes down Section 377. “Section 377 results in discrimination and is violative of constitutional principles. Consensual Sex between Adult homosexuals in private is not an offence”, said by Supreme Court in its verdict.

Chasing The Rainbow: A New Era And A New Fight for India’s LGBTQ Communities

“Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.”

-Jason Collins

India’s Supreme Court last year struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law that outlawed same-sex relations, sparking hopes of equality for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population. Hundreds of students with rainbows painted on their faces descended on a New Delhi college on Friday and others held parties in major Indian cities to commemorate the overturning of the ban on gay sex.

However, once all the celebrations and merrymaking faded into the background and harsh reality set in, it became apparent that homosexuality in India wasn’t going to be about unicorns and rainbows anytime soon. Even those beating drums and dancing warned that the fight for equal rights, including same-sex marriage and serving in the military, had not been won.

After all they still cannot marry, they still cannot adopt. They have many, many years before any of this is over. The harsh truth still remains that even though LGBTQ activists are growing in numbers, acceptance is still elusive as they continue struggle against internalized homophobia.

So, “where does this homophobia stem from?” and “how bad can it be?” you may ask.

One of the root causes of homophobia is that we, as a society, are unaware of homosexuality. We live in a time and place where people call each other gay to mock and insult them. A decade ago, gay and eunuch were used interchangeably and people were highly ignorant and intolerant towards homosexuality. My classmates often gossiped about (Bollywood producer and director) Karan Johar and (actor) Shahrukh Khan. It was a subject of ridicule and mockery. The stereotypical portrayal of gay and effeminate men in Johar’s movies was in unfair representation of the queer community. Even the popular sitcom FRIENDS was riddled with casual and sometimes blatant homophobia. “Gay” and “LGBTQ” still conjure images and connotations of loud, cackling men in gaudy drag costumes in India, partly because that is the only representation LGBT people get to have.

There’s also lack of sensitisation about the LGBTQ+ community. If they had a dime for each time someone told them that it’s “just a phase” or “why someone from the same gender, it’s not like you are deprived”, they probably could afford to move to a more accepting country. When I was in school, there was a guy who was often severely bullied by the “masculine” classmates because he was effeminate. Kids who weren’t “manly enough” were often a subject to ridicule and bash. No one stopped that. People thought it was normal and the right thing to do. This isn’t surprising though, given that even now there are people who find hijras scary.

The LGBTQ+ community also suffers from lack of support from their family. As a result, their only options are either getting excommunicated if they come out or remaining closeted which can be extremely draining.

They suffer from religious dogmatism. India is a secular country. Every major religion in India condemns homosexuality. It must no doubt be petrifying to live in a place which has more than 330 million gods and yet you can count on neither one of them for their blessings.

The arduous journey to acceptance becomes even more strenuous when you try discussing and rationalizing homosexuality to those intolerant towards it and reach the realization that the minds of recalcitrant homophobes are incapable of processing things beyond black and white. They need that sharp dichotomy. Without it, they panic. They feel adrift, as if nothing is sacred anymore. Which is, of course, ridiculous. But anyway, that whole thing comes from an “us or them” mentality, in which they’re the righteous and anyone who disagrees with them is clearly a secret homosexual out to convert their children to dance around a fire with Satan.

It appears that we have become obsessed in this toxic society with the labelling of others, especially with an intense and revolting over- interest in the sexuality and gender orientation of others what happened to the idea of loving our neighbours unconditionally and paying more attention to developing our own selves in good ways? After all, to change the world we change ourselves in ways that enable us to love others all the more. So let us drop the facade of “morality”, the wilting fig leaf over such garish homophobia, and have no agenda on the LGBTQ community.

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Diversity is good, and it’s okay to be different from the norm.

 

The Visibly Invisible

Hijras are a sexual minority that’s very visible, and yet they are treated by the society as if they’re invisible.

When Lord Rama was exiled from Ayodhya and his entire kingdom began to follow him into the forest, he told his disciples: “Men and women, please wipe your tears and go away.” So they left. Still, a group of people stayed behind, at the edge of the forest, because they were neither men nor women. They were hijras, which in Urdu means something like eunuchs. Those people waited in the woods for 14 years until Lord Rama returned, which won them a special place in Hindu mythology.

At a traffic signal on a busy day, the slight tapping on my car’s window by a transgender would often unnerve me. They are persistent, and there is a common notion that they will cause you embarrassment if you don’t hand them money. At other times, one might find them in the trains badgering the passengers for money, often to point that even the bystanders feel uncomfortable.But is that all there is to their identity? What is it like to be a hijra in India?

I can only guess. One must be fighting a constant battle with the rest of one’s nation to be taken seriously, to be accepted, to be respected, to be spared a laugh, to feel secure about their sexuality and to be understood, among so many other things. We can only guess.However, we can at the very least attempt to understand their plight. Imagine you’re thrown out of your house. What would you do? You’d go to your friend’s place? Or you’d go find some work and make your living? Imagine you don’t have any friends. And even if you did have any, they wouldn’t let you anywhere near their houses. What would you do now? Obviously you’d get some petty job and start earning for your own expenses. Now, imagine this. People aren’t even willing to give you a job. Everywhere you go, they just shoo you away, wanting to get rid of you from those places as quickly as possible. What’s next? You can’t go back home since your family has deserted you. You might want to try to talk to someone. Then, imagine no one even wants to lift their eyes and look at you when you approach them. You’re someone most people don’t even want to see. That’s the daily life of a transgender or a hijra.

Today hijras, who include transgender and intersex people are really hard to miss. Dressed in glittering saris, their faces heavily coated in cheap makeup, they sashay through crowded intersections and crash fancy weddings and birth ceremonies, singing bawdy songs and leaving with fistfuls of rupees. Behind the theatrics, however, are often sad stories — of the sex trade and exploitation, cruel and dangerous castrations, being cast out and constantly humiliated. Within India’s L.G.B.T. community, the hijras maintain their own somewhat secretive subculture.

Hijra communities face several sexual health issues including HIV, and since most hijras are from lower socioeconomic status and have low literacy levels, there are several barriers stand in their way of seeking health care. Mental health needs of hijras too are barely addressed in the current HIV programs. Some of
the mental health issues reported in these communities include depression and suicidal tendencies, possibly secondary to societal stigma, lack of social support, HIV status. There’s also the need to address alcohol and substance use among the hijra communities, a significant proportion of which consume alcohol possibly to forget stress and depression that they face in their daily life.

One might argue that since they’re able-bodied, they should just get a job job and provide for themselves. Yes, they absolutely should. Except for two words – social stigma. Most people would know the Kochi Metro recruited many transwomen when it started operations. Almost all of them have since quit. Why? Because while the job paid them 9–10,000 rupees a month, nobody would rent them accommodation, so they had to end up in lodges which cost hundreds daily. Ergo, they spent more than what they earned. In that instance, the government tried, and so did they. But society didn’t. The media also outed some women who were living secretly, away from family. The result? Threats of death if they came back home. In India, lakhs of male engineers are struggling to find gainful employment. What chance do these uneducated transwomen stand? They are not eunuchs by choice, they were born like that. We fail to create an environment for them in which they feel equal to us (which they are), in which they can lead a respectful and decent life by earning a living and not by begging, the least we can do is to help them by giving them these small amount of money, which hardly makes any difference to us.

Thus, the next time you meet a transgender, be polite, behave in a humble manner because what we see is the reflection of what we as a society have done to them. Tackle them with empathy and kindness, and be eternally grateful that you are not struggling with your gender, thrust on you by society. It could’ve easily been any one of us in their place. Even if you don’t give them money, at least don’t look at them with disgust.

At the end of the day, they’re normal people but it’s the world that makes them feel different.

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The visibly invisible community.

 

Transgender, Trains and Taboos

What’s the first image that comes to your mind upon hearing the word “Transgender”? Is it one of disapproval, disgust and social stigma? I don’t blame you entirely because our societies since ages have developed many taboos around the transgender community. However, blaming the society for their miserable treatment doesn’t come across as a nice defense as we are ourselves form a part of that very same society.

The word Transgender is an umbrella term that describes people whose gender identity or expression does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a transgender person may identify as a woman despite having been born with male genitalia.” You would be amazed to know about the transgender themes occurring in the Indian mythology. From the Mohini avatar of lord Vishnu, Sikhandi in Mahabharata, Lord Agni (The consort of moon good) and Lord Aravan (the transgender god) ,all find mention in ancient Indian epics and puranas).

Yet why is it that we aren’t inclusive of the transgender community?

This community has faced atrocities and discrimination to a point that it pushed the government to pass the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 in Parliament on November 26, 2019. This bill prohibits discrimination and grants rights to the transgender community of which they had been robbed of for long.

Has the bill really brought about a significant change in status quo of the Transgender community? Let’s figure it out for ourselves

  • Kochi metro employs transgender people: Kerala’s Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) shattered all myths when it offered jobs to 23 transgender people in their staff in the year 2017 through Kudumbashree Mission .It was a laudable move by KMRL which not only aimed at making the community financially independent but also  bringing about social inclusion .

One of the transgender employees says “This also was our first secure job. It proved that we too can do jobs that any other person does. With increasing acceptability, getting accommodation too became easier”.

While the other transgender members were happy to receive wedding invites from their colleagues. The commuters too expressed a welcoming attitude towards them with no incidence of misbehaving.

  • However, this once promising move could not contribute significantly in bringing about a change in the real sense. At present, out of 23 transgender persons hired only 6 are working with the KMRL. Many quit jobs citing a poor pay. The members had hard time in finding accommodation in the city .With no hike in the salary, sustaining in the city became a nightmare. 

Faisu , a former employee with the KMRL says “Since we were hired on contract, the salary was less. Our salary was `13,000, which reduced to `9,000 after all the deductions, including Provident Fund. It is difficult to meet our monthly expenses with the amount.”

  • Noida metro dedicates station for transgender Community: Following the Kochi metro model, the Noida metro dedicated Noida Sector 50 metro station for the transgender community. It is the first of its kind in North India. This praiseworthy initiative by the Yogi government aims at uplifting and providing employment to the transgender people. The station has been renamed “She man” for the inclusion of community into the mainstream. But this name hasn’t gone down well with certain people and human rights activists who called it as trans- phobic, derogatory and insulting. The committee has taken this criticism into consideration and invited suggestions on the same.These members will be offered mainly housekeeping, ticket collecting roles. This initiative comes as a ray of hope because as per Census 2011, there are 4.9 lakh transgenders in India out of which approximately 30,000 to 40,000 stay in the NCR.

Now here come the big questions

  • Who will make sure that the NOIDA metro model does not meet a similar fate as the Kochi metro?
  • Who will ensure that the transgender members get adequate salary?
  • Most importantly, who will ensure they receive fair treatment and inclusion that they deserve?

No, it is not the sole responsibility of the authorities. It is rather a collective effort. It is our combined responsibility to ensure that the transgender community receives the welcoming treatment they have long been denied. These schemes, initiatives are just a small step. In order to make them fruitful we have to work at grass root levels, spreading awareness and sensitivity about gender identity. It has to start with you and me. It’s time we bust the taboos and embrace the transgender community with open hearts.