“All genders are equal, and some genders are not more equal than others.”
~ George S.Orrywell
On a warm, splendidly depressing morning of my 12th grade boards, I sat in my car, amidst the grand chaos that is the Silk Board junction. If you are a Bangalorean, you would agree when I say, driving through this signal would make it to ‘the grand list of least fun experiences of life’.
For others to relate, it’s just like our country driving towards progress. Excruciatingly slow, random people honking stupidly, random cows blocking the way…you get the idea.
A pair of heavily bangled hands clapped to my left. I knew well what ‘kind’ this clap belonged to.
“Go away”, I said, as I began to close my window.
“Exam, ah?”. I nodded wearily.
“Don’t take so much tension, precious. God is with you”, she said, placing her palm on my head to bless me. I smiled sheepishly. There’s nothing as promising as strangers wishing well for you. There’s also nothing as mortifying as when it’s their answer to your rudeness.
“Study well and do some good for people like us”, she walked off without taking the ten rupees note that I held out for her.
“Blessings from them are considered holy. A form of half-Shiva and half-Parvati”, my dad informed. I laughed. How mystifying is this land. The girl-child is ‘a sacred flower’- she makes rotis all day. The wife is Goddess Lakshmi herself – she is beaten up, raped. And now, transgenders are our deities?
Do some good for people like us. I wondered what her story was.
The Silk Board is known for the countless hijras (or chhakkas) begging at the signal. The hijras are a community of eunuchs, intersex and transgender people in South Asia. India has an estimated one million hijras. These one million lives are one of the most marginalised, discriminated, and ridiculed sections of our society.
Gender is a primordial part of who we are. It is human nature to almost always perceive ourselves and others through the lens of gender. To dispel some of our favourite myths, gender dysphoria is not a mental illness nor is it an issue that limits one’s cognitive and academic abilities (do not kick them out, you can still make them engineers/doctors!).
Gender identity is NOT the same as sexual orientation. Trans people are not “secretly” gay or lesbian who change their gender to normalise their sexuality. Well, the “normal” that is lovingly prescribed by our Section 377 (*sigh*).
Our prided Kama Sutra recognised the feminine male as ‘tritiya prakriti’ or the third nature. But we are always a little late to pull out…uh, some of that ancient wisdom from our brains. So, it was only in 2014 that our Supreme Court recognised a third gender that is neither male nor female, and as a class entitled to reservation in education and jobs.
Nonetheless, *drumroll*, if you are a trans person, you can now simply tick the cute little ‘other’ box under the gender section on important-looking forms, so it’s more convenient to discrimin…err defend your rights.
Most hijras live in extreme poverty and make a living through extortion, performing at ceremonies, begging, or sex work. They face discrimination almost everywhere, be it healthcare, housing, education, employment, law or immigration.
Sexual violence against hijras is brutal; they are raped and tortured openly in public, in police stations and prisons, and even in their homes. It is reported that most hijras have their first sexual intercourse experiences at the early age of eight-ten years. The violence has severe impact on their mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.
Hijra sex workers are forced to have unprotected sex, putting them at higher risks of living with HIV and other STDs. In India, HIV prevalence among transgender people is estimated to be 8.2% whereas it is 0.31% among the rest of the population. Most don’t even consult doctors because of the fear of mistreatment they face in healthcare services. In the recent years however, HIV services in India have been successfully targeted, reaching 83% of the transgender population.
The very word “hijra” is thrown around as an abuse, which doesn’t come as a surprise considering, “one’s mother’s” (love, pickles perhaps?) is an insult here. My 9-year-old cousin once called his playmate a “chhakka” for breaking his toy. What have we done?
Then again, attitudes are beginning to change. Transfeminism is a class of feminism that deals with feminist issues from a trans perspective, including equality, empowerment, body image, violence against women, health, and reproductive choice. A fundamental feminist belief is that women and men should not be held down by traditional gender roles. Transfeminism expands on this very idea to argue that people in general should not be confined by sex or gender norms.
Prithika Yashini from Chennai is India’s first transgender police officer. The eminent activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi represented Asia-Pacific at the United Nations. Joyita Mondal Mahi, who slept at bus stands and begged on streets in her teen years, became our first transgender judge in 2017. The same year, model Anjali Lama did her entire trans community proud by walking the ramp for Lakme Fashion Week.
And yes, these are “real” women. A hijra woman once said, “I have a man’s body, but my soul is a woman”. And if the soul isn’t enough, then humanity is guilty. We all have the right to not be pressured into a choice just to be accepted as “real” women or “real” men. And we shall defend it. We are the new-age feminists. We accept and fight for the gender rights of all: woman, man, trans woman, trans man, small puppy, pet cactus, alike and unalike. Peace and love!
~ Written by Rashmitha Muniandi for MTTN
~Art and illustrations from Google Images