In the culture of the Indian subcontinent a hijra (Hindi: हिजड़ा, Urdu: حجڑا) is usually considered a member of "the third sex" — neither man nor woman. Most are physically male or intersex, but some are female. Hijras usually refer to themselves as female at the language level, and usually dress as women.
The Hindi word "hijra" may alternately be romanised as hijira, hijda, hijada, hijara, hijrah and is Template:Pronounced, between "heejra" and "heejda". An older name for hijras is kinnar, which is used by some hijra groups as a more respectable and formal term. An abusive slang for hijra in Hindi is chhakka.
A number of terms across the culturally and linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent represent similar sex/gender categories. While these are rough synonyms, they may be better understood as separate identities due to regional cultural differences. In Tamil Nadu the equivalent term is aravanni, aravani, or aruvani. In Urdu and Punjabi, both in Pakistan and India, the term khusra is used. Other terms include jankha. In Gujarati they are called Pavaiyaa (પાવૈયા).
In South India, the goddess Yellamma is believed to have the power to change one's sex. Male devotees in female clothing are known as Jogappa. They perform similar roles to hijra, such as dancing and singing at birth ceremonies and weddings.
The word kothi (or koti) is common across India, although kothis are often distinguished from hijras. Kothis are regarded as feminine men or boys who take a feminine role in sex with men, but do not live in the kind of intentional communities that hijras usually live in. Local equivalents include durani (Kolkata), menaka (Cochin), meti (Nepal), and zenana (Pakistan).
Hijras are widely referred to in English with the term "eunuch".
Gender and sexuality
These identities have no exact match in the modern Western taxonomy of gender and sexual orientation. Most are born apparently male, but some may be intersex (with ambiguous genitalia). They are often perceived as a third sex, and most see themselves as neither men nor women. However, some may see themselves (or be seen as) females, feminine males or androgynes. Some, especially those who speak English and are influenced by international discourses around sexual minorities may identify as transgender or transsexual women. Unlike Western transsexual women, hijras generally do not attempt to pass as women. Reportedly, few have genital modifications, although some certainly do, and some consider nirwaan ("castrated") hijras to be the "true" hijras.
A male who takes a "receptive" or feminine role in sex with a man will often identify as a kothi (or the local equivalent term). While kothis are usually distinguished from hijras as a separate gender identity, they often dress as women and act in a feminine manner in public spaces, even using feminine language to refer to themselves and each other. The usual partners of hijras and kothis are masculine men, whose gender identity is as a "normal" male who penetrates. These male partners are often married, and any relationships or sex with 'kothis' or hijras are usually kept secret from the community at large. Some hijras may form relationships with men and even marry, although their marriage is not usually recognized by law or religion. Hijras and kothis often have a name for these masculine sexual or romantic partners; for example, panthi in Bangladesh, giriya in Delhi or sridhar in Cochin. Hijras' and kothis' sexual identities may overlap with those of Western transsexuals, but are perhaps closer to the "queens" of pre-Stonewall Western culture with their feminine gender identity.
Becoming a hijra
Becoming a hijra is a process of socialization into a "hijra family" through a relationship characterised as chela "student" to guru "teacher", leading to a gradual assumption of femininity. Typically each guru lives with at least five chelas; her chelas assume her surname and are considered part of her lineage. Chelas are expected to give their income to their guru, who manages the household. Hijra families are close knit communities, which often have their own houses.
This process may culminate in a religious ritual that includes emasculation (total removal of the penis, testes and scrotum in men). Not all hijras undergo emasculation, and the percentage of hijras that are eunuchs is unknown. The operation—referred to by hijras as a nirvan ("rebirth") and carried out by a dai (traditional midwife)—involves removing the penis and scrotum with a knife without anesthesia. The cry and wail of the target is covered with huge trumpting. In modern times, some hijras may undergo a vaginoplasty, allowing them sexual fulfillment through vaginal intercourse, but such cases are rare. The American transsexual activist Anne Ogborn became an initiated Hijra in 1993. She is the first westerner to be a member of the Hijra community.
Social status and making a living
Most hijras live at the margins of society with very low status; the very word "hijra" is sometimes used in a derogatory manner. Few employment opportunities are available to hijras. Many get their income from performing at ceremonies, begging, or prostitution — an occupation of eunuchs also recorded in premodern times. Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes. As with transgender people in most of the world, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories.
Hijras have earned an income from the Indian government for collecting taxes from the villages and cities, the most effective method ever employed by the India government in collecting taxes still used in some cities.
Hijras are often encountered on streets, trains, and other public places demanding money from young men. If refused, the hijra may attempt to embarrass the man into giving money, using obscene gestures, profane language, and even sexual advances. Hijras also perform religious ceremonies at weddings and at the birth of male babies, involving music, singing, and sexually suggestive dancing. These are intended to bring good luck and fertility. Although the hijra are most often uninvited, the host usually pays the hijras a fee. Many fear the hijras' curse if they are not appeased, bringing bad luck or infertility, but for the fee they receive, they can bless goodwill and fortune on to the newly born. Hijras are said to be able to do this because, since they do not engage in sexual activities, they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to either bestow a boon or a bane.
Politics and activism
Many modern hijras, faced with health concerns and discrimination, have become politically active. For example, the All-India Eunuchs’ Welfare Association was formed in 1993-94, as well as HIV/AIDS awareness groups to combat health problems within their communities. One such group is the Dai Welfare Society, a mutual aid society formed in 1999 in Mumbai by and for hijras. The group estimate that half of hijras living in Mumbai have HIV. Another group is the Hijra Kalyan Sabha.
Other hijras have been elected to high political positions; Shabnam Mausi became India's first hijra MLA in 1999 (as an independent), only 5 years since hijras have been able to vote. Another hijra, Kamla Jaan, was elected as mayor of Katni, while another, Meenabai, became the president of the Sehora town municipality, the oldest civic body in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In 2005, 24-year-old hijra Sonia Ajmeri ran for state assembly on an independent ticket to represent the estimated 40,000 eunuchs in Gujarat. The wave of hijras entering politics has not been without controversy. In November of 2000, Asha Devi was elected mayor of Gorakhpur, a post reserved for a woman. The city had a population of approximately 500,000 as of 1991. She was unseated when a court decreed that she was a man, but was later reinstated.
Commonly Hijra-rights groups also support gay rights issues in the Indian subcontinent, but this is a newly-emerging situation.
The ancient Kama Sutra mentions the performance of fellatio by masculine and feminine people of a third sex (tritiya prakriti). This passage has been variously interpreted as referring to men who desired other men, so-called eunuchs ("those disguised as males, and those that are disguised as females"), male and female transvestites ("the male takes on the appearance of a female and the female takes on the appearance of the male"), or two kinds of biological males, one dressed as a woman, the other as a man.
During the era of the British raj, authorities attempted to eradicate hijras, whom they saw as "a breach of public decency". Anti-hijra laws were repealed; but a law outlawing castration, a central part of the hijra community, was left intact, though rarely enforced.
Hijras and religion
In Tamil Nadu each year in April/May, hijras — or aravanis, as they are called there — celebrate an 18-day religious festival. The aravani temple is located in the village Koovagam in the Ulundurpet taluk in Villupuram district, and is devoted to the deity Koothandavar. During the festival, the aravanis reenact a story of the religious epic Mahabharata: the mythical wedding of Lord Krishna (who had assumed the form of a woman) and Lord Aravaan, son of Arjuna, followed by Aravaan's subsequent sacrifice. They then mourn Aravaan's death through ritualistic dances and by breaking their bangles. An annual beauty pageant is also held, as well as various health and HIV/AIDS seminars. Hijras from all over the country travel to this festival. A personal subjective experience of the hijras in this festival is shown in the documentary India's Ladyboys, by BBC Three.
It is also believed in India that the hijras rush to celebrate the birth not only for their financial benefit only but also to make sure that the new born child is not a hijra. If it is a hijra, which is extremely rare, then they would go to any length to recruit him/her in their group.
- Jareena, Portrait of a Hijda (1990) 
- Bombay Eunuch (2001) 
- The Hijras: India's Third Gender (2001) 
- India's Ladyboys (2003) 
- Between the Lines: India's Third Gender (2005) 
- Middle sexes HBO documentary includes segment on modern Hijda (2005) 
- The Hijras of India BBC radio documentary 
Hijras in films and literature
Hijras have been on screen in Indian cinema since its inception, historically as comic relief. A notable turning point occurred in 1974 when real Hijras appeared in a song and dance sequence in Kunwaara Baap ("Virgin Father"). There are also Hijras in the Hindi movie Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). They accompany one of the heroes, Akbar (Rishi Kapoor), in a song entitled "Tayyab Ali Pyar Ka Dushman" ("Tayyab Ali, the Enemy of Love"). One of the first sympathetic portrayals was in Mani Ratnam's Bombay (1995). 1997's Tamanna starred male actor Paresh Rawal in a central role as Tiku, a hijra who raises a young orphan. Pooja Bhatt produced and also starred in the movie, with her father Mahesh Bhatt co-writing and directing. Hijras are also seen in the 2005 Deepa Mehta film Water, about another group of outcasts, the widows of Varanasi. There is a brief appearance in the 2004 Gurinder Chadha film Bride & Prejudice, with hijras singing to a bride-to-be in the marketplace. There's also a loose reference in Deepha Mehta's "Bollywood/Hollywood" in the guise of Rocky/Rokini.
In 2005, a fiction feature film titled 'Shabnam Mausi' was made on the life of a eunuch politician of the same name (see Shabnam Mausi). It was directed by Yogesh Bharadwaj, and the title role was played by Ashutosh Rana.
In Anil Kapoor's Nayak, Johnny Lever, who plays the role of the hero's assistant, gets beaten up by hijras, when he is caught calling them hijra ( he is in habit of calling almost everyone who bothers him by this pejorative and no one cares much, except this once ironically, as the addressee are literally what he is calling them.)
The 1992 film Immaculate Conception by Jamil Dehlavi is based upon the culture-clash between a western couple seeking fertility at a Karachi shrine known to be blessed by a sufi-fakir called Gulab Shah and the group of Pakistani eunuchs who guard it.
- Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India by Serena Nanda. Wadsworth Publishing, 1998. (ISBN 0-534-50903-7)
- Lovemaps, p. 106, by John Money. Irvington Publishers, Inc., 1988. (ISBN 0-87975-456-7)
- Myself Mona Ahmed. by Dayanita Singh (Photographer) and Mona Ahmed. Scalo Publishers (September 15, 2001). ISBN 3-908247-46-2
- The Third sex and Human Rights, by Rajesh Talwar. Gyan Publishing House, 1999. ISBN 81-212-0266-3
- Gendered Bodies: The Case of the ‘Third Gender’ in India, by Anuja Agrawal, in 'Contributions to Indian Sociology', n.s., 31 (1997): 273–97
- Hijras: Who We Are, by Meena Balaji and other Eunuchs as told to Ruth Lor Malloy. Toronto, Think Asia Publisher. 1997.
- According Mumbai health organisation The Humsafar Trust, only 8% of hijras visiting their clinic are nirwaan (castrated).
- Bradford, Nicholas J. 1983. "Transgenderism and the Cult of Yellamma: Heat, Sex, and Sickness in South Indian Ritual." Journal of Anthropological Research 39 (3): 307-22.
- Naz Foundation International, Briefing Paper 3: Developing community-based sexual health services for males who have sex with males in South Asia. August 1999. Paper online (Microsoft Word file).
- "Don't call us eunuchs or Hijras or by other 'names'. We like ourselves to be called as females....Yes we are transgendered females," says Aasha Bharathi, president of Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Association. Reported in Aravanis get a raw deal, by M. Bhaskar Sai, The News Today, November 27, 2005.
- See, for example, In Their Own Words: The Formulation of Sexual and Reproductive Health Behaviour Among Young Men in Bangladesh, Shivananda Khan, Sharful Islam Khan and Paula E. Hollerbach, for the Catalyst Consortium.
- See, for example, various reports of Sonia Ajmeri's marriage. e.g. 'Our relationship is sacred', despardes.com
- Saheli! Transsexual News Telegraph #2, Summer 1994
- Ravaging the Vulnerable: Abuses Against Persons at High Risk of HIV Infection in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch, August 2003. Report online.
See also: Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (Karnataka) Report on Human Rights Violations Against the Transgender Community, released in September 2003. Reported in Being a Eunuch, By Siddarth Narrain, for Frontline, 14 October, 2003.
- The Dying of The Evening Stars VI, by Sonia Faleiro. Published in Tehelka, October 28, 2005.
- Shabnam Mausi. The Body (December 2001). Retrieved on June 5, 2006.
- Shabnam Mausi. Malika's Indian Transgender Palace. Archived from the original on 2002-10-05. Retrieved on June 5, 2006.
- Court unseats eunuch mayor of Gorakhpur
- Kama Sutra, Chapter IX, Of the Auparishtaka or Mouth Congress. Text online (Richard Burton translation).
- Richard Burton's 1883 translation
- Artola, George (1975). The Transvestite in Sanskrit Story and Drama. Annals of Oriental Research 25: 56-68.
- Sweet, Michael J and Zwilling, Leonard (1993) The First Medicalization: The Taxonomy and Etiology of Queerness in Classical Indian Medicine. Journal of the History of Sexuality 3. p. 600
- Preston, Laurence W. 1987. A Right to Exist: Eunuchs and the State in Nineteenth-Century India. Modern Asian Studies 21 (2): 371-87
- Human Rights Violations against the Transgender Community, summary of a 2003 report by the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka
- Aamr C. Bakshi of The Washington Post on Pakistan Drag Queen talk show host Begum Nawazish Ali
- Collected BBC articles on Hijras
- India's eunuchs demand rights, BBC News, 4 September 2003
- Hijras on glbtq.com
- Collected Information About the Eunuchs of India Known as the Hijra
- The Works on Hijra in Indian Sub-Continent - Photographs (Link to most recent archived version at Archive.org.)
- In From the Outside, Timeasia.com, 18 September 2000.
- The Hijras of India Research Guide
- Why are Indian eunuchs warned about unsafe sex?
- World Press: Pakistan's Hijras
- Columbia University: Magical Stories of the Hijras
- Islamic Hijras
- Sangama - Leading Hijra Human Rights Organisation in India
- Neelam and Laxmi - Portraits of hijras living in Mumbai (2005), by journalist and author Sonia Faleiro
- Eunuch MP takes seat - BBC world news- News on Shabnam Mausi, Hijra MP