Eunuch or ‘Hijra’ – the third sex in India

Before delving into our current title, I would like to make a small note on three important (re-)defined terms which I came across reliable sources in the internet: Gender, Gender Equality and Gender Mainstreaming.

Gender: Prior to John Money’s work in 1955, the word “gender” was commonly used to refer to grammatical categories only. Gradually, as various sociological contexts were understood or emerged, this term also evolved in its definition. It now assimilates the aspects of biological sex (i.e., male or female or inter-sex), social roles (as the Hijra of India and Pakistan) or gender identity. In simple terms, it distinguishes between masculinity and feminity in a broader socio-cultural context which is also time-specific. The socio-cultural contexts include considerations for class, race, ethnic group, age and poverty level.

Gender Equality: It means that rights, needs, interests, resources, responsibilities, protection and opportunities (including decision-making) must be equal for all, irrespective of their sex or socio-cultural diversity. The United Nations Millennium Project that aims to end world poverty by 2015 claims that no society can develop in a “sustainable” manner unless it is modelled on gender equality.

Gender Mainstreaming: It is the process of integrating a gender perspective into all policies, legislations, programmes and activities in political, societal and economic spheres, at all levels, to transform that which generates or perpetuates gender inequality. Therefore, the ultimate aim of this socialisation process is to achieve gender equality.

Now, coming to the topic…

The eunuch or Hijra (in Hindi) is usually considered as a social stigma in India. Though the concept of “third sex” or “tritiya prakriti” exists in India from its ancient era, it was formally recognized in India in 1994. At present, “third sex” is being recognized in India with an option to identify them as “Eunuch (E)” on Passports and on certain other documents. However, it is yet to be accommodated fully in all other departments. Though there are efforts seen within and outside the Government to grant the basic civil rights to the eunuchs, it is still discriminatory in many cases. For example, in 2003, the Election Commission of India did not allow eunuchs to vote, unless they identified themselves either as male or female. In 2009, three eunuchs were not allowed to contest election, citing the very same rule- male or female.

The discrimination towards eunuchs is not new in modern India. During the British Raj, authorities attempted to eradicate eunuchs, citing them as a breach of public decency. Eunuchs were labelled as criminal tribe and were placed under the Criminals Tribe Act, 1871. They were subjected to compulsory registration, monitoring and stigmatized. However, on a positive note, independent India de-notified this in 1952; still the century-old stigma continues which labels the Hijra only as a social role and not as a “third sex”.

For their survival, the Hijras have developed a secret language called Hijra Farsi, which has a sentence structure loosely based on Urdu and a unique vocabulary of at least thousand words. Beyond the Urdu-Hindi speaking areas of the Indian subcontinent, this vocabulary is still used by the Hijra community within their own native languages.

On a socio-economic analysis, eunuchs in India live at the margins of the society, with a derogatory reference to the term Hijra. Hijras are not defined by specific sexual orientation, but rather by renouncing sexuality altogether. Many believe that their sexual energy is transformed into sacred powers. For this very reason, the Hijras were employed in royal houses and during ‘hom’ (a Hindu ritual of making holy offerings) in the past. Until even a few years back, the Hijras were invited by rich families /landlords to distribute sweets and clothes to the poor during festivals or bless a bride on the day of her wedding. But in reality – Hijras are today often self-employed as prostitutes for survival reasons.

It is often noticed that without any major employment opportunity and social acceptance, eunuchs in general get their income by begging, sex-work, working as escorts, performing ceremonies, etc. Study conducted by Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka in 2003, is an eye-opener in many forms. Without any social acceptance and with the discrimination in health-care, education, employment, income, housing, legal and social justice, etc., eunuchs in India are forced to live in sub-standard conditions and in inhuman life style. With a eunuch population of 10 lakh or more, and with such little efforts, the acceptance of the “third sex” in the Indian main stream is a dream that may not be fulfilled at all in the near future. Unless a comprehensive civil rights legislation is enacted to offer eunuchs the same protection and rights as guaranteed to the two other forms of biological sex i.e. male and female, nothing can be expected from the society.

The religious India however treats the Hijras in a different form – the bahuchara mata in Gujarat, a form of ardha-nari-swar (Lord Shiva and Parvati) and the aravanis in Tamil Nadu. On a different note, beginning 2006, eunuchs were engaged to accompany Patna city revenue officials to collect unpaid taxes, receiving a 4-percent commission. India’s first eunuch legislator, 40-year-old Shabnam Maushi joined the mainstream politics in the state of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000. The success story of Shabnam Maushi has encouraged other eunuchs in India, resulting in more of their participation in Indian politics and policy-making as Mayors, Legislators, Councillors, etc. But surely, more remains to be achieved for them in any advanced civil society.

Moreover, as Gender Mainstreaming is gaining momentum in India, we should therefore no more ignore the eunuch or Hijra… but respectfully treat them and work for their well-being at par with every other strata in our society.

Aamjunta – What do you say?

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12 Responses

  1. This is a very sensitive topic. In my opinion, the Hijaras in India are exploited and criminalized. The society is responsible for this. This article is really an eye opener for all of us; really how selfish and ignorant we are?? Thanks for this nice post. God bless you.

  2. ++ Eunuchs were also exploited in the Mahabharat too. A long history !! This kind of exploitation should stop completely. This can only be done if we accept them in our families; exploitation starts from family only.

    Good one.

  3. A deep-insight, empathetic post…

    While we must urgently support the cause of ‘Hijras’, the state must also protect them as well as the common man from being cheated, robbed or simply intimidated by some males falsifying themselves as the “third sex” !! ..We can usually see these trends in trains and even crowded market areas, where ladies travelling alone or in a small group are mostly accosted- such type of abuse in the name of ‘Hijra’ must be at once stopped !

  4. Thanks for the article. While we were talking about rape some months before in discarding the male privileges, such stereotype towards the eunuchs in same society should at least enlighten the moral crusaders with their high-talk, hypocrisy of solidarity with the weaker sex. The eunuchs have been subjected to inhuman suffocation from all possible angles, from being the source of derisive humors in the mainstream movies to the colloquial conversation “saale mard ho ya hijra”, ah! and with the spontaneity of stamped maleness.

    Read somewhere, eunuchs have never been a burden on the society, but they have changed the course of history. The sexual identity of male or female with the ability of intercourse or to procreate does not make one extra-human – the holy act is being performed by people almost every day, every second across the globe. Even animals are doing that. The denial of civil right based on the sexual identity holds no ground.

    You shared something about the cultural identity of Eunuchs. As per Hindu Myth – the two greatest devotees of Adi-Sakti ‘Malla and Mani”denounced their male identity to get closer with Maa Paravti. And they formed the basis of Maa Kali-Upasana. Spiritually, such lives are considered as sacred and with full of sacrifices. God is considered neither as male or female.

    Third gender, I belive, is a misnomer.

  5. নিজে অপরাদ থেকে বিরত থাকি, অপরকে অপরাদ না করার উত্‍সাহ দেই । নিজের অধিকার সামাজিক ভাবে মানবাধিকারের নেয় প্রতীষ্টা করতে চাই । সত্‍ নীতি কাযকরিতা চাই ।

  6. Is it only a sub-continent problem? What about Africa/Europe and US? I suspect similar problems are also there.

    Coming to India specific problem, I think our lawmakers should take this matter seriously and Supreme Court should also direct the government to take appropriate measure. May be some one should file a PIL for this. I seriously thank you for this post; a real aamjunta’s note targeting various sections of the people in your posts.

  7. I did not know they had their own language-how strange!

  8. Well, this is a very sensitive topic for many people in the Indian subcontinent. In my opinion, more than the Government, the society has to show maturity and bring all these people to the main stream. Humanity should prevail, not the sexual discrimination.

  9. … [Trackback]

    […] Read More: aamjunta.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/eunuch-or-hijra-the-third-sex-in-india/ […]

  10. Good to see Election Commission at least recognizes them More reforms should be there. May be AAP should think about these aam admis!

  11. watch this vital message from ‘The Seatbelt Crew’ (a group of Transgenders)…

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