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“I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. There were so many different ways to be beautiful.”
― Michael Cunningham
Transgender is generally described as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to their biological sex. Transgender may also take in persons who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth, which include Hijras/Eunuchs who, describe themselves as “third gender” and they do not identify as either male or female. Hijras are not men by virtue of anatomy appearance and psychologically, they are also not women, though they are like women with no female reproduction organ and no menstruation. Since Hijras do not have reproduction capacities as either men or women, they are neither men nor women and claim to be an institutional “third gender”. Among Hijras, there are emasculated (castrated, nirvana) men, non-emasculated men (not castrated/akva/akka) and inter-sexed persons (hermaphrodites). TG also includes persons who intend to undergo Sex ReAssignment Surgery (SRS) or have undergone SRS to align their biological sex with their gender identity in order to become male or female. They are generally called transsexual persons. Further, there are persons who like to cross-dress in clothing of opposite gender, i.e transvestites. Resultantly, the term “transgender”, in contemporary usage, has become an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, including but not limited to pre-operative, post-operative and non-operative transsexual people, who strongly identify with the gender opposite to their biological sex; male and female.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF TRANSGENDERS IN INDIA
TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts. The Concept of tritiya prakrti or napunsaka has also been an integral part of vedic and puranic literatures. The word ‘napunsaka’ has been used to denote absence of procreative capability.
Lord Rama, in the epic Ramayana, was leaving for the forest upon being banished from the kingdom for 14 years, turns around to his followers and asks all the ‘men and women’ to return to the city. Among his followers, the hijras alone do not feel bound by this direction and decide to stay with him. Impressed with their devotion, Rama sanctions them the power to confer blessings on 11 people on auspicious occasions like childbirth and marriage, and also at inaugural functions which, it is believed set the stage for the custom of badhai in which hijras sing, dance and confer blessings.
Aravan, the son of Arjuna and Nagakanya in Mahabharata, offers to be sacrificed to Goddess Kali to ensure the victory of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war, the only condition that he made was to spend the last night of his life in matrimony. Since no woman was willing to marry one who was doomed to be killed, Krishna assumes the form of a beautiful woman called Mohini and marries him. The Hijras of Tamil Nadu consider Aravan their progenitor and call themselves Aravanis.
Seldom, our society realizes or cares to realize the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the Transgender community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex. Our society often ridicules and abuses the Transgender community and in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres, hospitals, they are sidelined and treated as untouchables, forgetting the fact that the moral failure lies in the society’s unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and expressions, a mindset which we have to change.
‘The hijras are a family. The guru is the mother. Then there’s the dadguru who is the grandmother, and the purdahguru who is the great-grandmother. The guru and his chelas comprise a family. A guru selects a successor and trains him. If a guru fails to choose a successor, the panch, or the leaders of the seven hijra gharanas, choose him. All crucial decisions are made by the panch. Its leaders are wise men who command the respect of the entire community. There’s a family I am related to by blood, and then there are my chelas who are my other family. I need both families and cannot envisage a life without either.’says Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a well known transgender rights activist in India and is the founder trustee and Chairperson of Astitva, the Organization for the Support and Development of Sexual Minorities.
Transgenders, in our society, encompass all races, ethnicity, religious and social classes, yet, they’ve never enjoyed a respectable life, because of “what they are” and “how they are”. They are subjected to confusions and anguish, resulting from the rigid, forced conformity to sexual dimorphism throughout the recorded history. They are facing disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Discrimination against them have been associated with high rates of substance abuse and suicides, and they are facing rampant discrimination in the areas of family life, social life, housing, education, health etc.
They’ve been continuously subjected to hear and assimilate abuses from people about them. Their lives have always been subjected to abstaining from the colors of the world, just because of the denial of social acceptance. The society views them as eccentric characters, which wouldn’t fit into the prescribed sanctimonious bounds. Some of the common and reported problem that transgender most commonly suffer are: harassment by the police in public places, harassment at home, police entrapment, rape, discriminations, abuse in public places et.al. The other major problems that the transgender people face in their daily life are discrimination, lack of educational facilities, lack of medical facilities, homelessness, unemployment, depression, hormone pill abuse, tobacco and alcohol abuse, and problems related to marriage and adoption.
Gender identification becomes very essential component which is required for enjoying civil rights by this community. It is only with this recognition that many rights attached to the sexual recognition as ‘third gender’ would be available to this community more meaningfully viz. the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to marry, the right to claim a formal identity through a passport and a ration card, a driver’s license, the right to education, employment, health so on.
‘God has given each and every human being equal power. It’s not that we are born something special. We eat the same thing that you eat, so how can we be so different?”
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