India’s Third Gender
On 15th of August of this year, India celebrated its 60th year of Independence. Celebrations of independence, as residents of many South Asian countries would know, come with the usual ‘expert’ analysis of ‘how really free we are’; what are the triumphs, what are our failures. The Indian media was full of it.
On the same day, I and a friend of mine (also a BBite) happened to travel to Mumbai from Pune to meet up with Mumbai BBites and to see a city which has a population roughly equal to that of Sri Lanka.
We arrived in Mumbai, to what was a marathon-film screening organized by Beyond Borders Mumbai and managed to catch the latter part of a documentary titled, ‘India’s third Sex’ (or gender, I forget) the film is about eunuchs (or hijra as they are referred to in the sub-continent) and was quite a insightful take on the life and practices of the hijra community in India and my first real exposure to their lives and issues, although I was ignorantly aware of their existence.
The following day, we were invited to a walk organized by Humsafar, a trust which works on rights for sexual minorities and partners with BB Mumbai. Mostly out of curiosity, we agreed. The ‘silent walk’ was supposed to be a demand for their rights as citizens of India on the 60th year of ‘freedom’.
The experience was quite intriguing; there I made a mental note that I should blog about the experience, and about the hijra community. I never got around to it until yesterday when I discovered a blogpost by someone who has.
Following is an extract from the blog which relates to not of the same event, but of the same people and places.
We climb up to the fourth floor of the meat market in Vakola, Santa Cruz East, on wooden stairs that are surprisingly sturdy. Upon entering the drop-in center (DIC) of The Hamsafar (“companion”) Trust, which caters to the hijra (the third sex) and MSM (Males having Sex with Males) communities, the first thing you see on the reception desk is a basket of condoms. Then you notice the pink curtains.
The mission statement above the desk read: Mission: A holistic approach to the rights and health of sexual minorities and promoting rational attitudes to sexuality
Today is a special “Transgender Mondays”- it is the day before the hijra festival, and many of the hijra and transgender clients are dressed up in their finest saris and jewelry. Fragrant flowers adorn their hair, some of which are made into buns with hair extensions. Most of the hijra are too, too thin – their falsies slipping out of their bras and sari blouses; a few have decent breasts and round bottoms, the result of hormones…