Hijra: India’s Third-Gender

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Ever wonder what it would be like to wake up in the morning and find that you were in a different body? Not in the sense that you’d wake up and see the perfectly sculpted body of Beyonce or that of Mark Wahlberg; I’m referring to waking up and realizing that you were no longer a girl, but instead a boy and vice-versa. After you’ve been able to put your mind there, embrace that feeling. Now imagine, you awake  with a feeling of confusion, of loss, of being cheated, everyday of your life. This is something that many individuals face daily; transgendered individuals.

Now, let’s take it a step further. Let us imagine that we are not in a country that allows us to express who we are freely, without suffering certain repercussions. Instead, we are in a country that is already plagued by a caste-system that has enough power to negate where we stand on the “social-ladder.” In this country, homophobia is

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rampant, and violence is thus, justified toward those who may be attracted to the same-sex. Now, top that off with the scenario above. Of waking up each day not being able to identify with your given gender. Once you think you’ve been able to identify, if not for just a moment, let us again spice it up just a bit further. Let us now pretend, that we have a hard time identifying with a gender at all; neither male, nor female.

No, this is not a scene out of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest! This is in-fact a very real issue faced by thousands of Indians throughout India. They are known as India’s third-gender, the Hijras; those who are born without a solid gender identity, hence the phrase, “Neither male, nor female.” The other term known to describe a hijra is more popularly know as a “eunuch,” (a castrated man). It is estimated that there are anywhere ranging from 50,000 to 5 million hijras in India today.

At birth, hijras are born as males (anatomically speaking). However, as they grow, many of them face the same scenario that we attempted to play out above; identifying with the opposite gender. Born into a male body, yet are unable to embrace what is culturally recognized as being “male.” Instead, when you see a hijra, you are looking at what appears to be a woman. Wearing sari’s, their bodies adorned with jewelry, feminine mannerisms, makeup painted on their faces, and the signature markings of a woman, long hair the bindi between their eyes.

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In India, the resolution doesn’t necessarily come as easily as someone who undergoes Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in the U.S, or even in-the-form of support groups. Rather, in many cases,it is treated by shunning the individual and sending them off to live with others like themselves; other hijras that have been marginalized by society.

So, what makes them different then transgendered folks? Well, instead of being reassigned a gender, a “true” hijra is one who has been castrated. That’s right, genitals removed. Before safe and sanitary SRS surgeries were practiced, hijras took matters into their own hands; as a rite of passage, so to speak.

Because castration is illegal in India, the hijras were known to perform backdoor castrations on one another. It was once believed, that if one survived the backdoor procedure, then their existence was meant to be that of a hijra. For those who don’t survive the unsanitary, unprofessional “surgery,” then it wasn’t the chosen path for them. Today, many hijras opt out of having any surgery done, whether it be the backdoor castration, or reassignment surgery. It has been estimated that less than 10 percent have actually made the full transition from male to castrated male. The reason behind these facts have to do with society alone.

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