14 September 2012

The Mystical World of Hijra

We normally think of the world of consisting of just men and women, with no gray area in-between. However, what if you’re born feeling you are in the wrong gender and feeling like you do not belong? Or feeling like you are neither man or woman, but something else to be exact? In eastern cultures, the thought of a gray area between genders is real and prominent. In Hindu and Indian cultures, being of third sex or third gender, is real and been enriched throughout its history. Hijra's and kothis have been reviewed as one of the highest of caste, although now you wouldn't think so, given their living situations and limited forms of employment. Hijras are in fact fascinating, mystical, and very misunderstood. Common phrases like Kojja (Telugu), Khwaja Saraa(Urdu), Pavaiyaa(Gujarati), Khusra (Punjabi), chakka (Kannada), and Thiru Nangai(Tamil Nadu) are all of these phrases commonly describing a Hijra. In India and south Asia, Hijras are traditionally seen as neither male or female, but rather of the third sex or gender. The closest equivalent we have to a Hijra would be considered a transsexual in the west. Hijras are physiologically male or intersex, but identity with the female gender, commonly wear women's clothing, and adapt feminine roles and communicate in languages that are strictly used by woman. Hijras have no exact match in modern western views of gender and sexual orientation. In fact, they challenge western ideas of sex and gender. More were born males, although some are intersex¹ and often perceive themselves as a third sex, neither man or woman. However, some may see themselves as female or androgynous. Unlike western transsexual women, Hijras generally do not attempt to pass as women. Few receive gender modifications although some do while others consider Nirwaan or castration to become a "true" hijra.
Hijras have a long recorded history in the Indian subcontinent, from the antiquity and Kama Sutra period onwards, throughout Hindu and Islamic societies. Featuring a number of well known roles within the sub continental cultures and having respectable employment such as honorable servants to the noble caste. It wasn't until the colonial period and during the British Ra (1858-1947) where hijras were seen as an unpleasant form of public decency. Although the British Raj prohibited men from becoming Hijras, Indian communities still accepted Hijras as a respectable figure with magical powers. Hijras were not seen as strange until the mid-1900s. After independence, anti-Hijra laws were revoked. However the law prohibiting castrations, which is a central part of many Hijras was upheld but hardly enforced. Currently, many Indian societies consider Hijras as homoerotic and are viewed in a negative light. Hijras in modern times live in well defined, organized, all hijra communities. Most are at the margins of society with low status. Communities are lead by a guru (teacher) and have sustained themselves over generations by “adopting” young boys who are rejected or flee from their family. Because Hijras live in ostracized communities, many build a sense of family with one another. Usually each guru adopts at least five chelas, or students. Her chelas will adopt her surname and be viewed as a part of her linage; chelas are expected to give all earnings to the guru, who manages the welfare of the household. Living situations tend to be unpleasant living in rundown buildings located in many urban slums.
While living conditions are bleak, the general public does not favor Hijras as they once did, making it difficult for professional employment. Although some make a respectable living with performing at religious ceremonies, weddings and the birth of male babies involving music, singing, and sometimes sexual suggestive dancing, most times Hijras arrive at the event uninvited. However; the host usually pays the Hijra’s fee. Many fear that if they don’t pay they will be cursed by the Hijra, bringing them bad luck or infertility. For a fee, the Hijra can bless goodwill and fortune to the newly born. They are able to do so because they usually do not engage in sexual activities. For that, they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to bestow boon or a bane.

If one refuses to give a Hijra money, a Hijra may attempt to embarrass the man into giving them money by using obscene gestures, profane languages and sexual advances. Often times, some may result in showing their genitala in front of the the man if he doesn't donate money. Although Hijras can make a sustainable income by performing at weddings, many have resulted in begging and prostitution. Prostitution normally occurs in an Hijra’s home or in a hotel/brothel. Because of sex work, many are at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
As most transgender people in the world face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law and bureaucracy due to countries being unable to place them in male or female categories, violence against Hijras, especially sex workers, is often most brutal and occurs in public spaces, police station, prisons, and in their homes. Kothi, or Koti, are common across India similar to the Kothoey of Thailand. Kothis are often regarded as feminine men or men who take a feminine role in sex with men. However, they are distinguished from Hijras since they do dress in women’s clothing, act in a feminine manner in public spaces, and even use feminine languages. Most Kothis do not live in the type of intentional communities that Hijras usually live in. Most Kothis do not undergo initiation rites of body modification steps like Hijras do. Both Hijras and Kothis attract the same “masculine” man as a partner, whose gender identity is considered “normal” or as males who penetrate. Common names for these masculine men are panthi(bangladesh), giriya(delhi), and sridhar(cochin). Often, they have male partners who are married, and any relationship or sex with Kothis or Hijras are usually kept secret from the community at large. Some do form relationships and even marry, although their marriage is not recognized by law or religion.
There is estimated to be between 50,000 -500,000 Hijras in India alone, and many others throughout South Asia. In India, many worship Bahuchara Mata, the mother goddess, who is known to have the power to change one's sex. Male devotes dress in female clothing known as jogappa. They also perform similar roles to Hijras, such as dancing and singing at birth ceremonies and weddings. The supreme god Shiva is also worshipped. To many Muslims, Hijras are believed to be the outcome of Allah’s Will. Hijras have been long enriched throughout indian cultures because they have upheld traditions passed on through generations.
Hijras worked and danced for royals and noble families, and had a decent life, were treated with respect and thought to bring good luck and fortune to families. Although India and other south Asian countries have changed their views on Hijras and gays, with negative views from colonial Britain and other western views, other many Hijras are beaten up and harassed. They also have some laws that protect them, although police does not not regularly enforce it. Life has changed, but only for the better. Slowly change is coming to many with positive roles of Hijras in the media. However, many can not grant the opportunity to become better in modern society. Tell me what you think about hijras and kothis, do you feel they should have better living and more rights in modern day?  Also check out my other post on third sex/ gender if you want more information.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...