The 4000-year old community of Hijras is one that raises the curiosity of everyone, even of those who are prejudiced towards them. Yo! Vizag talked to them to find out more about their lives.
Kohl-lined eyes, rouged cheeks, flirty smiles, glittering attire and a thundering clap – this is the only side of a Hijra one gets to see. Uninhibited both with their blessings and anger, the third gender of India are believed to be the bearers of fertility and luck, despite the emasculation some of them go through to join the sect. Prejudice and disgust has driven them to the fringes of society where they now live in closed communes.
Visakhapatnam is home to 500 such Hijras, with the ‘haveli’ we visited housing 30 of them. This haven has been in existence since 5 years – built with their savings, funding from NGOs and a mysterious benefactor who still looks after them (referred to only as ‘Sir’). The Hijras who reside here are hesitant to talk and away from prying eyes, their true nature is on display. Few here hide behind a smile. One can clearly see the hurt in the eyes of these abandoned people, who are forced to resort to begging.
Within this commune is a firm social order – elders or ‘gurus’ leading the daughters they’ve taken under their wing. To each young Hijra ostracized by her family and society, it is the elders who provide safety and security – a home, family and a purpose to live for. One of the elders Siri, who has been on her own since she was 12, agrees to talk to us. She speaks of the many insults Hijras face, problems they go through and how despite their third gender recognition by the government, they’re yet to be provided with a proper identity.
People are so disgusted by us that when we go to watch a movie they don’t want to be seated next to us. And yet I’m supposed to believe the government when it says it’ll uplift us and provide us with vocational training. Who’ll come to get their clothes stitched by a Hijra when they’re repelled by our mere touch? Begging and dancing are all we’re left with and now, they want to take that away from us too? People are so against providing us with jobs that they don’t even offer us roles to play the Hijra characters in movies.
We have a reputation as being short-tempered. What would anyone do if someone called them a k***a? Wouldn’t they want to physically and verbally abuse the man too? When such instances get out no one talks about what the other person has done or said, but we’re definitely blamed for troubling the man. People need to understand it’s not our fault that we were born this way, nor is it our fault that we beg to make ends meet.
We haven’t been issued a ration or Aadhar card, literally left unrecognised by society. But when our own parents don’t care about us, maybe we shouldn’t hope for anything from the world. If our parents hadn’t kicked us out, we would’ve had a better life, been educated. But we’ve learnt to give up on such dreams and be content with what we have.
When society has disagreed to rent us homes, we’ve built our own. When people fail to provide us with healthcare, we’ve learnt to collectively put aside money for when one of us is in need. But there’s only so much we can do when people refuse to recognise us as living, breathing human beings with emotions. There are some amongst us who fall in love and marry too, what could be more human than that?”
Discrimination and ignorance continue to threaten the livelihoods and the very lives of these Hijras. While once this sect of eunuchs, intersex, and transgender people were considered sacred before Colonisation, maybe it is time we grant them back their stolen respect.