Thursday, November 17, 2011

Third Gender of South Asia



Having cheap make-up, ill getup roaming around busy places in groups, male voices shouting expletives and with a trademark clap, is a common image of Eunuchs or Hijra's of South Asia. They are considered as a member of the third gender-neither man nor woman.

The word has its origin in Arabic, 'Hijr' meaning 'leaving one's tribe' or 'migration’. In Urdu, both in Pakistan and India, the term Khusra is used. Most of them are physically male or inter-sex, but there are instances of physically female, present. Hijra's are widely referred to in English with the term eunuch or hermaphrodite. However in general not all Hijra's are eunuch, the castrated and those who changed their gender are also included.They usually refer to themselves linguistically as female and dress as woman.



There are more than two million eunuchs, present in South Asia. They are usually rejected for what they are and the way they live. As with transgenders people in most of the world, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration and law. That leads them to making their living out of begging, prostitution, dancing, singing, and sexual embarrassments of various kinds.

On childbirths, weddings and other auspicious occasions, they cash in for performance and blessings.The eunuchs are believed to possess occult powers,and their blessings and curses are both considered potent. No sooner has a baby born in neighborhood they create a commotion outside the house until the mother has allowed them to look at the baby. Once blessed they demand exorbitant sums of money in lieu of their good wishes. If the baby is born a eunuch on rare occasions, they insist that the baby is given to them. Often families comply to avoid humiliation in society and they took the baby and raise as one of their own.

Becoming a eunuch is a process of socialization into a eunuch family orchestrated by the head of the community known as Gurus leading to a gradual assumption of femininity.

In Hindu contexts, eunuchs belong to a special caste. They are usually devotees of the mother Goddess Bahuchara Mata and / or Shiva. In Tamil Nadu India, each year in April and May Eunuchs or Aravanis as they are called there, ritually marry the Hindu God Aravan and then mourn his ritual death in an 18 day festival in the village of Koovagam.

Faced with widespread discrimination there is a clear and compelling case for eunuchs to be officially recognized as a separate group, with all the rights of other minorities.

In India such a movement has gained grounds. Indian Eunuchs are getting chance to participate in the events, such as eunuch beauty contest which has begun to receive a lot of public attention. A group of eunuchs also had the opportunity to model in professional fashion show and media that bring them to the forefront of public consciousness. They have their entry in politics too. Shabnam Manushi became India’s first eunuch MP in 1999 as an independent, only five years since Hijra’s have been able to vote.

In July 2009, Pakistani Supreme Court rulings has decree that all members of Pakistan’s hijra community should be registered as part of government survey with the end goal of better integrating them into society and enable them to access the services of state social welfare departments and financial support programs. Bangladesh is still far quite undeveloped in terms of recognizing this third gender.

May be they are different, but they are not lesser beings than ordinary men and woman, but a mixture of both. It is time to officially recognize them as full human beings, with same rights to protection, jobs and welfare as other minorities.


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