On 31st of March, International Transgender Day of Visibility, I picked up my bag, threw in some snacks and left to seek them.
This feeling of getting wanting to get to know the trans-women in India arose from an interaction at a red light where she knocked on my window and blessed me in exchange of a ‘gift’ (particularly money). Whether I gave Rs.10 or Rs.100, her blessing would not change. “May you get all the happiness in the world” she said.
‘She’ was a hijra — a term assigned in India to refer to trans women (male-to-female transsexual or transgender individuals). The Indian usage has traditionally been translated into English as “eunuch” or “hermaphrodite,” where “the irregularity of the male genitalia is central to the definition.” However, in general, hijras are born with typically male physiology, only a few having been born with intersex variations. Some hijras undergo an initiation rite into the hijra community called Nirwaan, which refers to the removal of the penis, scrotum and testicles. There are not many employment opportunities available to the hijras. And many get their income from extortion, performing at ceremonies, begging, or sex work.
I call them the Deviant Devi’s…the castrated, inter sexual people who are nonetheless, human. Once known as a symbol of union between Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati — Ardhanari, a god that is half man and half woman. It is also said that hijras have been granted with the power of blessing other people as adopted from the famous mythology ‘Ramayana’. When Lord Rama, after returning from his exile, witnessed Hijra devotees, and being impressed by their devotion, Rama granted hijras the boon to confer blessings on people during auspicious inaugural occasions like childbirth and weddings. This boon is the origin of badhai (congratulatory actions) in which hijras sing, dance, and give blessings.Today, they are now not even considered fit to be a part of the society that sees gender as a binary. Wrapped up in colourful, sparkling saris, decked up with makeup and accessories. With their nails coloured bright and their eyes in hopes of some change. They have succumbed to the fact that nobody would see them as equal, to some, their very own individuality eats them. They are left with low self esteem and mostly, seek to spread happiness because no one could give it to them.
Once I entered the colony of hijras, I asked around for a woman named Sanjana as she had just won the Miss Transgender Award and was quite famous in her locality. I sought to interview her. I went to her house, and was greeted by many with warm hugs and blessings. They liked the attention that they were getting from me. “Sit, sit” they said.
Sanjana, covered in blue embroidery, carrying a purse and walking swiftly like a model, asked me who I was in a feminine voice.
“I want to tell the world who you actually are,” I said.
“The world would never understand us, they never have and no matter what you do, there would always be criticism,” replied another trans woman who was passing by while I spoke.
Sanjana smiled and said, “See, we have found our family here, with our sisters (other trans women) and the oldest of them being our mother.”
There she was, the mother of 7 trans women and the grandmother of 5 adopted granddaughters and grandsons, laying on a small bed next to me. None of them were related by blood but by choice and love.
I held Sanjana’s hand as she weeped in a poised manner, “What do you want to know exactly?” she asked in a hesitant voice.
“Just your life story” I replied.
“Okay, let me start off by telling you that I belong to a village near Bombay, I have a masters in Fashion
Designing from Haridwar and Now I live here with my family”. “Oh Wow, a masters!” I was amazed by her merit and achievements.
“So when did you know that you were different?” I asked. Sanjana asked my driver to leave as she couldn’t trust a man knowing about her personal information.
“So you know what happens when a girl grows up to be a woman, I too was a girl, not getting them, I was late”
“Yes, I understand”
“My parents kept waiting, 16 years old, then 17, finally at 18, they realised that I was different. I went out to discover the world, to be on my own”
“Oh, so did they force you to leave or you left on your own will?”
“No, they were open to my uniqueness, however, it was the society that forced me to be on my own, not because of my merit but because of my biological difference. People started mocking me and I couldn’t bear to see my family in pain so I took off.”
“People sometimes look at me and say that I am so pretty but I am ‘that’ and now I am so used to it that it doesn’t bother me at all” said Sanjana with a despondent face.
She kept reiterating on the fact that she is made to impart happiness and blessings to the world and not just to clap her hands every time a baby is born.
“We take every baby as if it were our own, we take every man to be our very own brother and every lady as our sister. We are the anonymous family that the world has had since ages”
“People think that we make use of expletives, peremptory loots, and threaten to show our genitals if someone doesn’t pay us, but that is not the case at all, nobody ever curses another individual, even if they beat us up or abuse us. We are the most loveable people, if only the world knew that” continued Sanjana.
“That’s why I’ve come here, to enlighten the people, so tell me Sanjana Ma’am, why don’t u work as a designer now?” I said in an assuring manner.
“Who will give me a job? Will they accept me for who I am? I’ve tried, believe me I have. But it doesn’t work”
“What if I try to get you one? Will you be willing to go to work?”
“That would be amazing, but it’s the mentality of the people that prohibits them from befriending us, even if
I start work tomorrow, the co-workers will raise their eyebrows at me and ill-treat me day after”
“Forgive me if this hurts you but why don’t you revolt?”
She saw me and smiled again, “Do you think we haven’t? See it in our eyes, Now this is our life, and this is my home, I don’t expect anything from anyone now. We too have families to support, these kids that you see in the other room, I need money to feed them, how are we supposed to do that without a job? Even after our not liking to beg, we are bereft of options, and our only source of income is by making use of our distinctiveness, so we do, we impart happiness on others’ joyous occasions”
“I can only say one thing, We don’t mean any harm, we too, love to love just like you people, we are very caring and always want the welfare of all people.”
It was as if she had been preparing for this interview all her life…No one had ever cared to ask her how she felt like! She blessed me and my friend, Kabir who was recording the whole conversation.
“What do you want to become?” She asked.
“Oh Me! A Writer” I replied ecstatically.
And she blew on my head and Kabir’s who said that he aspired to become an actor and chanted the sacred hymns. We bid goodbye and I took her phone number and assured her that I would get her a respectable job and call her. As I sat in the car and waved one last time, I could feel her pain, her aspirations and the hopes she had from me.
This interaction with Sanjana made me curious about other trans-women who were making their mark in the world.
One renowned transgender rights activist whose voice has impacted the lives of many is Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. She is the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008.
“People should be more humane. They should respect us as human beings and consider our rights as transgenders,” she says. Born as the eldest boy in an orthodox family, she broke the convention by proving that people, be it of any gender or sexual preference can achieve whatever they want in life. Laxmi, who was often addressed as “Homo” in her school, started her own organisation ‘Astitva’ in 2007 which aims to promote the welfare of sexual minorities, their support and development.
Another inspiring Trans Woman is Akkai Padmashali, a former sex worker who emerged as a Human Rights Activist. Being tortured at home and in society, she speaks boldly about her experiences and motivates others to speak up. “I used to play with girls a lot. One day my father brought me home and poured hot water on my legs. He said that if I didn’t act as per society’s norms, this was my punishment,” recalls Akkai while in conversation on Chai with Lakshmi.
Akkai now fights for uplifting the status of Transgenders who face the same brutalities as she once did.
I hope this Transgender’s Day, we look at these deviant devis with different eyes and respect their uniqueness.To highlight India’s initiative of uplifting their status, I would like to state that on 15 April 2014, in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India ruled that transgender people should be treated as a third category of gender and as a socially and economically “backward” class entitled to proportional access and representation in education and jobs. However, there still persists backwardness in mentality and outlook, let’s find them, and help them since it’s now that they need us more than ever.