Stereotyping The Hijras?


[Editor’s note – This post is in response to the recently published article in Tehelka on Hijras/Transgenders in India]

What will this legal status offer someone from the hijra community, who works on the street and has negligible private property or savings? No alimony for sure, because more often than not it is her partner who is dependent on her earnings. Maybe we wish to protect the rights of her partner to her marginal savings post her death? But then again, a hijra’s dharma stipulates that she give her wealth to her guru or chelas, and not leave it for some man, who is likely to desert her at some point to return to his ‘true’ family. Same-sex marriage for the hijra, then, allows the man she marries to make a legal claim for the wealth that he would otherwise have been considered not deserving of, much like how parents or kin of hijras have been known in recent years to come in and make legal claims for their property after their death, even as they possibly were ashamed of her existence till then. In effect, legalising same-sex marriages offers nothing for the hijra community at least.

So we seem to want same-sex marriages to protect the legal rights of urban middle-class gay or lesbian identified men and women who might want to contract a legal marriage to ensure that they are able to access corporate and state benefits that accrue to couples. This urban minority, and its desire for a global LGBT identity, is increasingly the focus of much of LGBT legal rights work, even as it claims to speak for all people expressing transgressive erotic desires. This subsuming of the hijra into the global language of LGBT rights is reflective of the many ways in which legal LGBT activism in the country directs itself.

Continue Reading : Why marriage equality may not be that equal

My question is plain and simple; how many hijras do you personally know? This is a leaf straight out of the story about six blind men trying to figure what an elephant is – a fable from Jataka. Having worked for the LGBTIQ community in Mumbai, I can very well say that you would not have an inkling of the different sects that operate within hijras, apart from the flesh trade that you mention. Also, the 4000 year old support system of gharanas and gurus is far beyond the knowledge of most people. Hijras being members of Parliament in some states, Tamil Nadu giving them recognition as well as them speaking at the United Nations are instances that do not find mention here. Why? Simply because it would not fit in with the view that you are presenting. Since the story starts and ends with enough assumptions, I would not like to go into details.

The need for empowerment is different from the need to change the traditional structure within which Hijras and Transgenders operate. We respect that, and if you call it upper class comfort, please go look up the participation we get from TGs and Hijras in Mumbai Pride.

Marriage equality is a very far off thing; we are still talking about basic discrimination and bullying / suicide issues. We are talking about getting an average Indian to consider LGBTIQ individuals as alternate version of the ‘normal’ that they are accustomed to; we are thawing the ice bit by bit with great difficulty and challenges. I know a few hijra couples; yes, life is uncertain for them and marriage might not even be formalised. One is married to a student of hotel management – no, he doesn’t live off her money, and no, she doesn’t work as a commercial sex worker. If Tehelka would ask someone from hijra community to write their side of the story (so many post graduates among them that I lost count), we could talk about equality. Sadly they asked an upper class affluent man to express his opinions.

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Praful Baweja is a 32 year old marketing communication consultant who voluntarily works with LGBTIQ causes.
Praful Baweja

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