The term Hijra has roots from the Arabic term “hjr” but has been borrowed by Hindi and it translates to “eunuch” or “hermaphrodite” however it is an umbrella term, often used to refer to the transgender, intersex, homosexual, asexual, eunuch, and hermaphrodite communities of South Asia, specifically India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Hijras have officially been given the status of the third gender and are not recognized as either male or female. In Gender and Genitals: Constructs of Sex and Gender, Hubbard also mentions how hijras are able to live as a third group rather than being categorized with the typical form of recognition for gender identity. Although Hubbard writes that there is acceptance of the third gender in non-western countries, there is also a downside to this acceptance. Life has not become any easier for them despite being recognized as a third gender. In fact, their gender identity creates more problems for them because of societal norms. In this piece, I will be writing about some of the struggles that are experienced by the hijra community in South Asia.
To survive in any society, it is important for an individual to be socially accepted for who they are but considering the universal treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, it is obvious that not many countries are interested in advocating for their social acceptance. Even though hijras have been legally recognized as a third gender for being “different” yet they have to live as an outcast regardless because the norm does not allow for them to be respected in ways that other members of society are able to do so because of their heterosexuality. Hijras have been recognized in South Asia since even before the Mughal empire. They held highly respectable positions during the Mughal empire serving “as caretakers of royal harems, masters of art and culture, and trusted as messengers, watchmen and guardians” (Chaudhry et al, 2553). However, sadly this is not the case anymore as many hijras have to struggle to just make a decent living. Most of them are left with no choice but to take to the street for begging or prostitution. They have to take all sorts of risks with their bodies because their work requires them to do so. This is because the governments may recognize them as a third gender but do not necessarily provide them with any resources and no one seems to respect them enough to give them a job. This is so disgusting and infuriating considering how there was once a time when they were able to hold a respectable position but due to colonization and other factors, they have to live as outcasts.
Furthermore, not only are hijras forced to live in poor conditions but they are also abandoned by their own families as societal acceptance is prioritized over one’s child. Hence the reason why it is so difficult for hijras to live in South Asian communities especially in Pakistan which is the Islamic Republic and often people use self-interpreted religious beliefs to excuse the hateful behavior towards the hijra community. Although in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, hijras have officially been given the right to vote, the reality is that despite government recognition, they have not received any official ID cards (Jain & Rhoten, 11). Nonetheless, voting is one of their last concerns as most of them struggle to even feed themselves. Hijras are not only deprived of employment but also education which is a basic need for anyone to function in today’s societies (e.g., jobs) and it is also considered one of the basic human rights by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hijras like other people should be allowed to attend schools to attain education which could potentially create more opportunities for jobs in the future. It is so vile and inhumane to even think of treating a human being the way hijras are treated. They are unable to have a normal childhood because they don’t “fit in” and struggle their entire adulthood just trying to survive. “If my fate were in my own hands then I would have been someone like my brothers, if it was in my hands then I’d be happy to be an animal just so I could live with my mother,” says Chahat, a member of the hijra community in Karachi, Pakistan.
Why is it so hard for us as humans to be accepting of people who do not fall into the set social constructs made by us? Why is it so easy to be an aggressor than being thoughtful of one another? The things that “normal” humans are often able to do without much hindrance and are of as much importance for hijras but people think they don’t deserve to live like that. Thus, marriage is also an obstacle; the truth is that they often have to leave their partners because of cultural principles. They are treated way worse than a human being should be and people blame them for their situations. It is so sickening and the only reason they are tolerated by society is because of the superstitious beliefs. The idea of being “different” is so hated by society that they don’t realize the extent of their actions and how it hurts people. As someone who has personally witnessed the inhumane treatment of hijras, my heart breaks whenever I talk about this. Why can’t society acknowledge hijras as human beings just like everyone else? Just because they choose to lead a different lifestyle than what’s normalized, it should be not an invitation for them to be seen as someone less worthy of respect. In every aspect of life, they are met with unbeatable obstacles.1 2 3 4
- Being Transgender In Pakistan: Inside Story (LGBTQ+ Documentary) | Real Stories
- Hubbard, R. (1996). Gender and Genitals: Constructs of Sex and Gender. Social Text, 46/47, 157–165. https://doi.org/10.2307/466851
- Ghafoor Chaudhry, A., Ellahi Khan, S., Ahmed, A., & Khan, N. (2014). THE BEGGING HIJRAS OF ISLAMABAD IN THE AGE OF URBANIZATION: AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE. Science International, 26(5).
- JAIN, D., & RHOTEN, K. (2013). A Comparison of the Legal Rights of Gender Non-Conforming Persons in South Asia. Economic and Political Weekly, 48(52), 10–12. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24477885