Let us talk about ‘Hijras’, known as ‘chakka’, ‘ali’, ‘napunsak’ depending on the state/language you belong to.
There is very little understanding among educated, elite Indians about life of Hijra. We normally see them begging in trains by showing strange gestures, which is often not accepted according to our societal norms. Our media (be it print, broadcast or movies) project them as strange characters, mainly associated with unusual sexual activities. In northern part of India I understand they are called during marriages for giving dance performance. One of my school friends, a qualified physician was the first one to provide some insights into Hijras, thanks to his education and experience in working with a bunch of NGOs. Upon our further discussion, we felt how non-inclusive our society is. We may boast ourselves having a rich culture and heritage (popularly known as bharathiya sanskruti), but have a long way to go!
Hijras are born male, who converted themselves into female by getting rid of male genitals. While my doctor friend says the root cause is not to clear (one of the reason being their hormonal imbalance by birth), which eventually gives them a ‘feel’ that they are not male. In such cases, according to medical science, a three step gender conversion is a solution. First he should consult a psychiatrist who can either help him to come out of the ‘feeling’ of becoming a female or mentally prepare them for a gender conversion operation. If the gender conversion becomes inevitable, he need go through a complex operation which will physically remove male genitals followed by some more psychological counseling, thereby ensuring that he get used to the new gender. The third and most important aspect is to have a well defined legal system, which can help the converted individual to be treated as a female in the society. She (erstwhile he) is legally entitled to apply for jobs (as females), get married (leaving the fact that she cannot reproduce) and enjoy all the societal benefits.
In India, none of the above mentioned process/system exist. When an individual get a ‘feeling’ of becoming a female there is absolutely nobody to provide any sort of support. Over a period of time, these folks starts hating their male physique. With obvious lack of support from family (Imagine what would happen to an individual when he goes to his parents and says ‘I don’t feel like a boy; I want to become a girl’) and society they are forced to desert their families and join Hijra community. Upon joining, they are assigned a mentor (known as ‘didi’) who will provide some initial orientation. In order to go thro’ emasculation process (known as ‘nirvana’) the newly joined Hijra has to accumulate necessary money, which they can only do by begging. Even if the Hijra is educated, he is forced into begging because nobody is ready to offer any sort of employment.
After accumulating necessary money (and with the help of didi), the new joined Hijra meets a ‘self appointed’ doctor who will do the emasculation. This process is legally not allowed in India, hence performed behind the doors without proper precaution. Such a risky process can even result in the Hijra’s death. After going thro’ the unbearable pain for months together, finally the Hijra gets rid of his male identity. Now they are formally inducted as a Hijra with few ceremonies done as a part of their community. While the Hijra can take a small sigh of relief for attaining ‘nirvana’, life becomes exceptionally difficult from here on.
Hijras are not accepted in our country as human beings; Nobody is ready to rent house or allow them to eat in restaurant even if they are ready to pay; Nobody is ready to offer any sort of employment; No hospital will treat them for their illness; No official documents (like passport, drivers license, ration card etc..) will be provided to them; They are not entitled to vote; There is no legal system in place by which they can officially declare themselves as female; In summary Hijras are not given a ‘human being’ status. Thanks to the support from Hijra community, they somehow manage to get a place to live. However they have only two choices when it comes to profession – Begging or prostitution. That’s the very reason why we see them begging in trains.
The very fact that there is no system exists for Hijras shows the maturity of our society. We are absolutely fine to listen about Hijras in Mahabharatha (when Arjun takes the role of Hijra, during their exile period) or worship our lord in form of ‘Ardhanarishwar’ (where lord shiva takes 50% male and female form) and claim it is something superior. But in reality, the situation is pole apart where Hijras are given third class treatment. There are few positive changes (one of the Hijras contested and won election in UP, TN government has offered ration cards for Hijras etc..) but that is way too slow considering there are about one million Hijras in India. There might be small pockets of development happened in the country, thanks to globalization, but we are far from creating an inclusive society.
No wonder we are still called as ‘Third world’ country!