“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.’’
Eunuchs have been there for centuries and the scriptures have mentioned them in many places. If you happen to read the well-researched fiction of Barbara Chase Riboud’s ‘Valide – Novel of the Harem’’ on the Turkish Sultans, then there is much to squirm about.
Riboud describes in detail how eunuchs are created with the stroke of a dirty but sharp knife. First, the penis is cut off, without sedation, from young boys who are kidnapped; pinned down by eunuchs themselves. Then the slower process of carving out the testicles is executed. The wound is not allowed to fuse, enabling an orifice for urine to pass, which is ingeniously created by inserting a neem stick which is removed whenever the wound heals.
Meanwhile, the boy during this healing period does not pass urine, and is also not given water – to minimize the formation of urine. In many cases, the pressure of the urine hit the ureters and damages the kidneys, bringing death and an escape from the agony. But for those who survive the healing process, the neem stick is removed, letting out a steady stream of urine which is at once acknowledged by celebrations from the eunuchs. They then assimilate the boy, ‘reborn’ now as a eunuch, to perpetuate their community.
Last year in Delhi, when 13-year-old Ram did not turn up home from school, the police were clueless. He had just become another statistic in the numerous children who go missing each year. But when he reappeared at the doorstep six–months later, the joy of the parents were cut short by a distinct queerness that had come over the boy who had aged much more than six years in the few months he was missing.
Upon prompting, Ram recalled how he became Rama the eunuch after being lured away into a ‘Hijrah’ stronghold and castrated with crude instruments and then made to eke out a living for a couple of rupees a day.
Today, there are about two million of these members of the so called Third Sex and all have been recognized as part and parcel of the mainstream society in India.
The “recognition of transgender (people) as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue”, said Justice K. Balakrishnan in the Supreme Court, creating formally another category of people who would now jostle for jobs, medical entrance exams and claim to become lecturers in universities.
In a ruling Tuesday, the apex court has given the status of ‘backward’ caste to this community enabling them to have reservations in all walks of life and help them catch up lost ground after centuries of discrimination on account of their deviant sexuality. Those under its ambit would include castrated males, men born with deformed genitals and effeminate boys discarded by their families.
Many of these transgenders eke out a living either through aggressive begging or through performing sexual acts. They are also known to ambush weddings and birthdays of young baby boys demanding large donations and upon the faintest mention of denial would flash their mutilated genitals – considered a bad omen to those who happen to see it. This lurking fear would also make many cough up the demand for cash, clothes or food at once. There are also cases of eunuchs being deployed as tax-collectors.
In the ancient Indian texts the mention of the eunuch was rare, though not completely unknown. Castration, whether of men or animals, was disapproved of, and harems were generally guarded by elderly men and armed women. But, the literature and history of medieval India seems to indicate a greater space to this as a phenomenon which got institutionalized through the relationship between the rulers and the slaves, with some of the slaves being eunuchs.
The best known relationship was between Sultan Alauddin Khalji and his eunuch slave Malik Kafur. Such was Kafur’s hold over Khalji that he was appointed deputy ruler (Malik Naib). Ziauddin Barani, a commentator on Alauddin’s reign, said in reference to the last years of the Sultan’s life, “In those four or five years when the Sultan was losing his memory and his senses, he had fallen deeply and madly in love with the Malik Naib. He had entrusted the responsibility of the government and the control of the servants to this useless, ungrateful, ingratiate, sodomite”.
According to R. Nath, in the Private Lives of Mughals in India, the Mughals used boys from the province of Sylhet in Assam – now part of Bangladesh- for this purpose. It is a common sight in many bazaars in the country where packs of these transgenders roam with lipstick, false eye-lashes, faces caked with layers of cheap make-up adorning ill-fitting blouses and striking saris, playing out the parody of the grotesque in womanhood.
With India being the only country where the eunuch tradition exists, they have come a long, long way from being royal confidants, to harem keepers, tax-collectors, symbols of fear and even loathsomeness right down to jostling for space in the mainstream of the Indian society.