Almost 10 years ago, India recognized the existence of third gender people in the country thus representatives of the hijra caste were included in it. But how did a non-male and non-female community emerge in India and how are hijras treated in the country?
Indian society is caste-based. In ancient times, in the country of Bharat, people were divided into 4 castes but gradually segregation became more and more ramified, subgroups were distinguished within the castes.
Thus, over time, a group of hijras emerged among the social layer of untouchables.
As a phenomenon, it arose during the Muslim rule. Islamic rulers introduced the custom of keeping eunuchs in harems to India. The castrati looked after the wives of the ruler, and also entertained him with songs and dances.
Blessing and Curse
Officially, hijras are considered untouchables – they cannot live with representatives of other castes or interact with them. But the hijra eunuchs, whose appearance was influenced by Muslims, chose Hindu gods as their patrons – the bisexual Ardhanari and the female avatar of Shiva Bahuchar Mata.
Therefore, the superstitions of ordinary Hindus endowed hijras with magical skills. They are believed to be able to cast and remove curses related to childbirth.
Therefore, on the one hand, hijras are hated, and there are even attacks against them. On the other hand, they are feared and even ask for blessings to have children.
This is how hijras took their place in society. They came to holidays in women’s outfits and bright makeup – weddings, births of children, and so on. They blessed and wished for healthy offspring. They sang and danced.
Along the way, the hijras looked after hermaphrodite newborns, boys with deviations in gender behavior, or simply feminine ones. They filled up the caste. Sometimes the children were stolen, but more often the parents sold the boys or even gave them to the hijras who were sick or had disabilities.
Not all hijras are eunuchs. But castration in this community is welcomed and considered the highest act of service to divine patrons. Those who want to do this undergo a strict ritual. They place the organ on the table. The head of the clan does everything with one blow. A scar remains on the body – it is believed that just the sight of it can cause damage.
Beautiful and talented people make money by singing and dancing. Hijras even contributed to the culture of India. Their community managed to preserve many monuments of ancient Hindu and Persian poetry, as well as examples of ancient dances.
But if a hijra is unlucky with his appearance, then he is sent to the streets to beg or engage in prostitution. Today, hijras are most often seen in transport. In bright saris and provocative makeup, they walk around the carriages, clapping their hands. It is customary to give them money to avoid a curse.
The caste also retains a certain number of beautiful, uncastrated men who are forced to cohabit with women purchased by the caste. This is how hijras replenish their ranks at the expense of children born.
But the majority of men still come to the caste voluntarily as adults – these are those who cannot accept their biological sex and find their place in traditional society.
In 2014, the Indian government officially recognized that members of the hijra caste are neither men nor women, but a third gender. Why was this done?
There are three occupations available to hijras in the caste – dancing, begging or prostitution. As people with an officially recognized non-binary gender identity, hijra youth can try to get into other professions.