‘Hijras,’ ‘kinnars’, ‘khusras’ (transgenders) singing, dancing and blessing the mother after childbirth and newlyweds for fertility is a common sight in my middle-class Punjabi neighborhood in Delhi. One can not ignore their sexy moves and the choice of raunchy songs at such festivities. And now one can often see ‘hijras’ begging at traffic signals and railway stations.
They are revered and have divine sanction in Hindu religion, and people seek their blessings. Indian epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana are full of references to Hijras and Kinnars. The union of Lord Shiva and Parvati resulted in the formation of Ardhnarishwar (half male and half female god).
They often demand cash after the blessing ceremony, which no one can dare refuse because of their ability to curse.
But Hijras are mostly absent from the public domain. Apart from few, who have attained some minor political positions or the very famous Laxmi Narayan who is an international speaker and activist, where are hijras? Though they have been legally recognized as the third gender, they haven’t found acceptance in the Indian society.
‘Everyone wants our blessings, but no wants to talk to us,’ says Sharmila. Sharmila is the head hijra of our local neighborhood. She decides which house her team is going to go and what to demand. She sets her demand based on the material affluence of the house she is visiting. Sharmila and her team of 3-4 hijras will visit the house where some auspicious event has occurred. They will wear some glittery saree, heavy makeup, and some glittery jewelry. She shares her predicament, ‘We are divine, but we are also the outcasts… We can’t enter the house. We have to sit outside. We are hijras and not the guru who will be offered choicest food in return for blessings.’
As the head ‘hijra’, Sharmila is responsible for the well being and basic needs of her team members. She complains that with the advent of gated societies, their access to houses and money is limited. The local guards have restricted their entry as they are considered uncouth and a nuisance. They have no choice left. They have to either beg or sell their bodies to survive. The attitude of people towards them have changed due to modern education. She says, ‘No one respects us now’, With the rise of sexually transmitted diseases in their community and dwindling opportunity for collecting money, the future looks bleak to her.
Her team joins her, and she sets off looking for a possible house for their next blessing ceremony.