Hijra (South Asia)

In the culture of South Asia, hijras /eunuchs are men who have feminine gender identity, adopt feminine gender roles, and wear women's clothing. The Hijra sanaths (हिजड़ा, ہِجڑا, হিজড়া, ಹಿಜಡಾ, Punjabi ਹਿਜੜਾ) are also known as chhakka in Kannada and Bambaiya Hindi, khusra (ਖੁਸਰਾ) in Punjabi and kojja in Telugu.

An Indian Hijra.

In Pakistan, the hijra gender role includes true intersex people (khusras), crossdressers (zenanas) and eunuchs (narnbans).

Hijras are also known as Aravani/Aruvani or Jagappa in other areas.

Hijras/Eunuchs have a long recorded history in the Indian subcontinent, from antiquity, as suggested by the Kama Sutra period, onwards. This history features a number of well-known roles within subcontinental cultures, part gender-liminal, part spiritual, and part survival.

In South Asia, many hijras live in well-defined, organized, all-hijra communities, led by a guru. These communities have sustained themselves over generations by "adopting" young boys who are rejected by, or flee their family of origin."None of the hijra narratives I recorded supports the widespread belief in India that hijras recruit their membership by making successful claims on intersex infants. Instead, it appears that most hijras join the community in their youth, either out of a desire to more fully express their feminine gender identity, under the pressure of poverty, because of ill treatment by parents and peers for feminine behaviour, after a period of homosexual prostitution, or for a combination of these reasons." Many work as sex workers for survival.

The word hijra is a Urdu-Hindustani word, derived from the Arabic root hjr in its sense of "leaving one's tribe," and has been borrowed into Hindi. The Indian usage has traditionally been translated into English as "eunuch" or "hermaphrodite," where "the irregularity of the male genitalia is central to the definition." However, in general hijras are born with typically male physiology, only a few having been born with male intersex variations. Some Hijras undergo an initiation rite into the hijra community called nirwaan, which refers to the removal of penis, testicles and scrotum.

Since the late 20th century, some hijra activists and Western non-government organizations (NGOs) have been lobbying for official recognition of the hijra as a kind of "third sex" or "third gender," as neither man nor woman. Hijras have successfully gained this recognition in Bangladesh and are eligible for priority in education.

Terminology

The Urdu and Hindi word hijra may alternately be romanized as hijira, hijda, hijada, hijara, hijrah and is pronounced ɦɪdʒɽaː. This term is generally considered derogatory in Urdu and the word Khwaja Saraa is used instead. Another such term is khasuaa (खसुआ) or khusaraa (खुसरा). In Bengali hijra is called হিজড়া, hijra, hijla, hijre, hizra, or hizre.

A number of terms across the culturally and linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent represent similar sex or gender categories. While these are rough synonyms, they may be better understood as separate identities due to regional cultural differences. In Telugu, a hijra is referred to as napunsakudu (నపుంసకుడు), kojja (కొజ్జ) or maada (మాడ). In Tamil Nadu the equivalent term is Thiru nangai (mister woman), Ali, aravanni, aravani, or aruvani. In Punjabi, both in Pakistan and India, the term khusra is used. Other terms include jankha. In Gujarati they are called pavaiyaa (પાવૈયા). In Urdu another common term is khwaaja sira (خواجه سرا).

In North India the goddess Bahuchara Mata is worshipped by Pavaiyaa (પાવૈયા). In South India, the goddess Renuka is believed to have the power to change one's sex. Male devotees in female clothing are known as Jogappa. They perform similar roles to hijra, such as dancing and singing at birth ceremonies and weddings.

The word kothi (or koti) is common across India, similar to the Kathoey of Thailand, although kothis are often distinguished from hijras. Kothis are regarded as feminine men or boys who take a feminine role in sex with men, but do not live in the kind of intentional communities that hijras usually live in. Additionally, not all kothis have undergone initiation rites or the body modification steps to become a hijra. Local equivalents include durani (Kolkata), menaka (Cochin), meti (Nepal), and zenana (Pakistan).

Hijra used to be translated in English as "eunuch" or "hermaphrodite,"

Gender and sexuality

These identities have no exact match in the modern Western taxonomy of gender and sexual orientation, and challenge Western ideas of sex and gender. Most are born male, but some may be intersex (with ambiguous genitalia). They are often perceived as a third sex, and most see themselves as neither men nor women. However, some may see themselves (or be seen as) females, feminine males or androgynes. Some, especially those who speak English and are influenced by international discourses around sexual minorities, may identify as transgender or transsexual women. Unlike some Western transsexual women, hijras generally do not attempt to pass as women. Reportedly, few have genital modifications, although some certainly do, and some consider nirwaan ("castrated") hijras to be the "true" hijras.

Hijras are not defined by specific sexual orientation, but rather by renouncing sexuality altogether. Sexual energy is transformed into sacred powers. However, these notions come in conflict with the reality, in which hijras are often employed as prostitutes.

A male who takes a "receptive" role in sex with a man will often identify as a kothi (or the local equivalent term). While kothis are usually distinguished from hijras as a separate gender identity, they often dress as women and act in a feminine manner in public spaces, even using feminine language to refer to themselves and each other. The usual partners of hijras and kothis are masculine men, whose gender identity is as a male who penetrates. These male partners are often married, and any relationships or sex with "kothis" or hijras are usually kept secret from the community at large. Some hijras may form relationships with men and even marry, although their marriage is not usually recognized by law or religion. Hijras and kothis often have a name for these masculine sexual or romantic partners; for example, panthi in Bangladesh, giriya in Delhi or sridhar in Cochin.

Social status and economic circumstances

Most hijras live at the margins of society with very low status; the very word "hijra" is sometimes used in a derogatory manner. Few employment opportunities are available to hijras. Many get their income from performing at ceremonies (toli), begging (dheengna), or sex work ('raarha')—an occupation of eunuchs also recorded in premodern times. Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. As with transgender people in most of the world, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories.

In 2008, HIV prevalence was 27.6% amongst hijra sex workers in Larkana. The general prevalence of HIV among the adult Pakistani population is estimated at 0.1%.

In a study of Bangladeshi hijras, participants reported not being allowed to seek healthcare at the private chambers of doctors, and experiencing abuse if they go to government hospitals.

Beginning in 2006, hijras were engaged to accompany Patna city revenue officials to collect unpaid taxes, receiving a 4-percent commission.

Language

The hijra community due to its peculiar place in sub-continental society which entailed marginalisation yet royal privileges developed a secret language known as Hijra Farsi. The language has a sentence structure loosely based on Urdu and a unique vocabulary of at least thousand words. Beyond the Urdu-Hindi speaking areas of subcontinent the vocabulary is still used by the hijra community within their own native languages.

In South Asian politics

The hijra community in India has seen many success stories in the political sphere starting with the election of Shobha Nehru in 1998 for the city council seat in Hissar, Haryana. However, given the influence of Islam on hijra communities, there is a lack of Islamic rhetoric in the political sphere. Pakistan, on the other hand, has yet to see a hijra elected into the government, even though there is much political activism from the hijra community. In 2013 transgender people in Pakistan were allowed to run as election candidates for the first time in history. Sanam Fakir, a 32-year-old hijra, ran as an independent candidate for Sukkur, Pakistan's general election in May.

The governments of both India (1994) and Pakistan (2009) have recognized hijras as a "third sex," thus granting them the basic civil rights of every citizen. In India, hijras now have the option to identify as a eunuch ("E") on passports and on certain government documents. However, they are not fully accommodated; for example, citizens must identify as either male or female to vote. There is also further discrimination from the government. In the 2009 general election, India's election committee denied three hijras candidature unless they identified themselves as either male or female. A similar event happened in the 2008 election in Pakistan, prompting a gathering of 50,000 protesters.

History

The ancient Kama Sutra mentions the performance of fellatio by feminine people of a third sex (tritiya prakriti). This passage has been variously interpreted as referring to men who desired other men, so-called eunuchs ("those disguised as males, and those that are disguised as females"), male and female transvestites ("the male takes on the appearance of a female and the female takes on the appearance of the male"), or two kinds of biological males, one dressed as a woman, the other as a man.

During the era of the British Raj, authorities attempted to eradicate hijras, whom they saw as "a breach of public decency." Anti-hijra laws were repealed; but a law outlawing castration, a central part of the hijra community, was left intact, though rarely enforced. Also during British rule in India they were placed under Criminal Tribes Act 1871 and labelled a "criminal tribe," hence subjected to compulsory registration, strict monitoring and stigmatized for a long time; after independence however they were denotified in 1952, though the centuries-old stigma continues.

In religion

The Indian transgender hijras or Aravanis ritually marry the Hindu god Aravan and then mourn his ritual death (seen) in an 18-day festival in Koovagam, India.

Many practice a form of syncretism that draws on multiple religions; seeing themselves to be neither men nor women, hijras practice rituals for both men and women.

Hijras belong to a special caste. They are usually devotees of the mother goddess Bahuchara Mata, Lord Shiva, or both.

Hijras and Bahuchara Mata

Bahuchara Mata is a Hindu goddess with two unrelated stories both associated with transgender behavior. One story is that she appeared in the avatar of a princess who castrated her husband because he would run in the woods and act like a woman rather than have sex with her. Another story is that a man tried to rape her, so she cursed him with impotence. When the man begged her forgiveness to have the curse removed, she relented only after he agreed to run in the woods and act like a woman. The primary temple to this goddess is Gujarat and it is a place of pilgrimage for hijras, who see Bahucahara Mata as a patroness.

Hijras and Lord Shiva

One of the forms of Lord Shiva is a merging with Parvati where together they are Ardhanari, a god that is half Shiva and Half Parvati. Ardhanari is especially worshipped in North India and has special significance as a patron of hijras, who identify with the gender ambiguity.

Hijras in the Ramayana

In some versions of the Ramayana,"Many, if not most, translations of Valmiki's Ramayana do not contain this reference." Joseph T. Bockrath, when Rama leaves Ayodhya for his 14-year exile, a crowd of his subjects follow him into the forest because of their devotion to him. Soon Rama notices this, and gathers them to tell them not to mourn, and that all the "men and women" of his kingdom should return to their places in Ayodhya. Rama then leaves and has adventures for 14 years. When he returns to Ayodhya, he finds that the hijras, being neither men nor women, have not moved from the place where he gave his speech. Impressed with their devotion, Rama grants hijras the boon to confer blessings on people during auspicious inaugural occasions like childbirth and weddings. This boon is the origin of badhai in which hijras sing, dance, and give blessings.

Hijras in the Mahabharata

Mahabharata includes an episode in which Arjun, a hero of the epic, is sent into an exile. There he assumes an identity of a eunuch-transvestite and performs rituals during weddings and childbirths that are now performed by hijras.

In the Mahabharata, before the Kurukshetra War, Ahiravan offers his lifeblood to goddess Kali to ensure the victory of the Pandavas, and Kali agrees to grant him power. On the night before the battle, Aravan expresses a desire to get married before he dies. No woman was willing to marry a man doomed to die in a few hours, so Krishna assumes the form of a beautiful woman called Mohini and marries him. In South India, hijras claim Aravan as their progenitor and call themselves "aravanis."

{{Quote box|width=246px|bgcolor=#c6dbf7|align=right|quote="Sangam literature use the word ‘Pedi’ to refer to Hijra, The Aravan cult in Koovagam village of Tamil Nadu is a folk tradition of the transwomen, where the members enact the legend during an annual three-day festival. “This is completely different from the sakibeki cult of West Bengal, where transwomen don’t have to undergo sex change surgery or shave off their facial hair. They dress as women still retaining their masculine features and sing in praise of Lord Krishna,". “Whereas, since the Tamil society is more conservative and hetero-normative, transwomen completely change themselves as women. In the ancient times, even religion has its own way of accepting these fringe communities.” The Bachura Devi worship in Gujarat and Jogappa cult of Karanataka are the other examples.the kinds of dialects and languages spoken by these community in different parts of the country and the socio-cultural impact on the lingo. ‘Hijra Farsi’ is the transgender dialect, a mix of Urdu, Hindi and Persian spoken in the northern belt of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan and ‘Kothi Baashai’ is spoken by the transgender community in Karnataka, Andhra, Orissa and parts of Tamil Nadu. “They even have sign languages and typical mannerisms to communicate. The peculiar clap is one such".

In Tamil Nadu each year in April and May, hijras celebrate an eighteen-day religious festival. The aravani temple is located in the village Koovagam in the Ulundurpet taluk in Villupuram district, and is devoted to the deity Koothandavar, who is identified with Aravan. During the festival, the aravanis reenact a story of the wedding of Lord Krishna and Lord Aravan, followed by Aravan's subsequent sacrifice. They then mourn Aravan's death through ritualistic dances and by breaking their bangles. An annual beauty pageant is also held, as well as various health and HIV or AIDS seminars. Hijras from all over the country travel to this festival. A personal experience of the hijras in this festival is shown in the documentary India's Ladyboys, by BBC Three and also on the television series Taboo on the National Geographic Channel.

Hijras in Islam

There is evidence that Indian hijras identifying as Muslim also incorporate aspects of Hinduism. Still, despite this syncretism, Template:Harvcoltxt notes that a hijra does not practice Islam differently from other Muslims and argues that their syncretism does not make them any less Muslim.

Template:Harvcoltxt also documents an example of how this syncretism manifests: in Hyderabad, India a group of Muslim converts were circumcised, something seen as the quintessential marker of male Muslim identity. . In addition to these "male" rituals, the hijras took on "female" practices from Islam such as veiling, as opposed to veiling from other traditions.

This syncretism is less common in Pakistan.

In films and literature

Template:Unreferenced section Hijras have been on screen in Indian cinema since its inception, historically as comic relief. A notable turning point occurred in 1974 when real hijras appeared in a song and dance sequence in Kunwaara Baap ("The Unmarried Father"). There are also hijras in the Hindi movie Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). They accompany one of the heroes, Akbar (Rishi Kapoor), in a song entitled "Tayyab Ali Pyar Ka Dushman" ("Tayyab Ali, the Enemy of Love"). One of the first sympathetic portrayals was in Mani Ratnam's Bombay (1995). 1997's Tamanna[1] starred male actor Paresh Rawal in a central role as Tiku, a hijra who raises a young orphan. Pooja Bhatt produced and also starred in the movie, with her father Mahesh Bhatt co-writing and directing. Deepa Mehta's Water also features a hijra character by the name of Gulabi, A hijra (played by Raghubir Yadav), has taken to profession in introducing the widows of Varanasi, another group of down-trodden outcasts, to prostitution (the film resulted in high controversy). There is a brief appearance in the 2004 Gurinder Chadha film Bride & Prejudice, with hijras singing to a bride-to-be in the marketplace. There's also a loose reference in Deepha Mehta's Bollywood/Hollywood in the guise of Rocky or Rokini.

In the 2000 Tamil film, Appu directed by Vasanth, the antagonist is a hijra. The film features the hijra running a brothel and the role is played by Prakash Raj. This was a remake of the Hindi film Sadak, in which the character of the brothel owner was famously played by Sadashiv Amrapurkar, with the name (in the movie) "Maharani."

In 2005, a fiction feature film titled Shabnam Mausi was made on the life of a eunuch politician Shabnam Mausi. It was directed by Yogesh Bharadwaj, and the title role was played by Ashutosh Rana.

Jogwa, a Marathi film of 2009 depicts the story of a guy who is forced to be a Hijra under certain circumstances. The movie has received several accolades.

In Soorma Bhopali, Jagdeep encounters a troupe of hijras on his arrival in Bombay. The leader of this pack is also played by Jagdeep himself.

In Anil Kapoor's Nayak, Johnny Lever, who plays the role of the hero's assistant, gets beaten up by hijras, when he is caught calling them "hijra" (he is in habit of calling almost everyone who bothers him by this pejorative and no one cares much, except this once ironically, as the addressees are literally what he is calling them.)

The 1992 film Immaculate Conception[2] by Jamil Dehlavi is based upon the culture-clash between a western Jewish couple seeking fertility at a Karachi shrine known to be blessed by a sufi-fakir called Gulab Shah and the group of Pakistani eunuchs who guard it.

One of the main characters in Khushwant Singh's novel Delhi, Bhagmati is a hijra. She makes a living as a semi-prostitute, and is quite wanted in diplomatic circles of the city.

The novel Bombay Ice by Leslie Forbes features an important subplot involving the main character's investigation of the deaths of several hijra sex workers.

The novel City of Djinns by William Dalrymple also features a chapter on hijras.

The novel A Son Of The Circus by John Irving features a plot line involving hijras.

In the graphic novel Habibi by Craig Thompson the protagonist, Zam, is adopted by a group of hijras.

Vijay TV's Ippadikku Rose, a Tamil show conducted by postgraduate educated transgender Rose is a very successfully running program that discusses various issues faced by youth in Tamil Nadu, where she also gives her own experiences.

In addition to numerous other themes, the 2008 movie Welcome to Sajjanpur by Shyam Benegal explores the role of hijras in Indian society.

In the 2009 Brazilian soap opera Caminho das Índias (Portuguese for "The way to India") hijras are shown in some occasions, especially at weddings and other ceremonies where they are paid for their blessing.

In the TV comedy Outsourced (2011), a hijra is hired by Charlie as a stripper for Rajiv's "bachelor party", much to Rajiv's utter horror.

The film Common Gender (2012) brings you the story of the Bangladesh hijra and their struggle for survival.

In the Malayalam movie Ardhanaari, released on 23 November 2012, director Santhosh Sowparnika tries to depict the life of a transgender. In this movie Manoj K Jayan, Thilakan, Sukumari and Maniyanpilla Raju have performed leading roles.

A short film is being made by Rock Star Productions, under the direction of Jim Roberts which portrays the protagonist as a hijra. This film is set to be released on May 1.

Documentaries

The topic of the 2012 Bangladeshi film Common Gender-The Film brings you the story of their struggle for survival.

See Also

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