Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An over 2,000-year-old journey for ‘hijras’

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

“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.

source: 'http://www.americanbazaaronline.com/2014/04/16/kidnapped-castrated-boys-men-deformed-genitals-eunuchs-get-legal-acceptance-india/'

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lakshmi’s Story

People are curious to know about hijras. How do we live? Behave? What do we do? Do we kidnap children? What funeral rites are performed for a hijra after his death? Is he cremated or buried? Such questions do not have answers. Only scholars can answer these questions. Because we hijras are so secretive about our lives, hearsay rules the roost.
As hijras we live ordinary lives, like everyone else. Like the underdog, we are respected by nobody. Except for the newly introduced “Adhar Card” we have no “adhar”  or official recognition, or support from any quarter whatsoever. We are thus destitute. Estranged from family and ostracized by society, people couldn’t care less how we earn a livelihood, or where our next meal comes from. If a hijra commits a crime, the mob rushes to attack him while the police are only too glad to press charges against him. This is not to justify crime, but to reiterate that all crimes have a social dimension, and in the case of hijras this cannot be overlooked. Yet it is never taken into account.
We hijras live in ghettos. In Mumbai and Thane, many such ghettos exist in neighborhoods like Dharavi, Ghatkopar, Bhandup, Byculla, and Malad. The eviction of the poor from the city of Mumbai takes its toll on the ghettos. They begin to shrink in size. The hijras then disperse toward townships like Navi Mumbai where survival is a bit easier.
Our main occupation is to perform badhai at weddings, or when a child is born. At such times we sing and dance to bless the newlyweds or the newborn. But can badhai alone fill our stomachs? Obviously not, and so we supplement our earnings by begging on city streets, and performing sex work, and dancing in bars and night clubs. Dancing comes naturally to us hijras.
It is believed that all hijras are castrated. We call it nirvan. In the eyes of the public we are castrated males. But that is not always the case. Castration is strictly optional, and every hijra decides for himself whether or not to undertake it. Castration cannot be forced upon a hijra. Though the world believes that a castrated hijra alone is a real hijra, we do not endorse this. I am not castrated. I did not opt for it and my guru did not pressure me into it. Most of my chelas are also uncastrated like me. But yes, many of us have had breast implants. The surgery is expensive, but without it our transformation is incomplete. However, unlike many other hijras, I haven’t gone in for hormone therapy in my desire to look feminine. Though I am not castrated, the hijras regard me as one of them.
At times, we hijras are in the news for the wrong reasons. Say, for kidnapping a child and forcing it to become a hijra. Here, what is needed is an unbiased and impartial inquiry. Prejudice shouldn’t dominate. That hijras receive orders from their community to convert people to their gender is a myth. Our elders have never advised us to force someone to become a hijra. The decision to become a hijra is traumatic. Once one becomes a hijra the doors to one’s earlier life are shut forever. It isn’t easy for a hijra to come to terms with his new life. The family, and indeed society as a whole, reacts strangely. Terrified, the hijra in self-defense invents the story of his having gotten kidnapped and forced into hijrahood. Sometimes, even a complaint to that effect is lodged! Of course, it’s not as if hijras never kidnap kids. But then the community doesn’t forgive them. Like mainstream society, the hijra community too has its share of criminals. Though the laws of the land should be sufficient to deal with them, crimes by hijras are often exaggerated and the hijras are chastised. Disproportionate punishment is meted out to us by the police and the public. This is unfair.
Yet another myth about us is that the funeral of a hijra is performed late in the night and he is beaten with slippers. The unearthly hour is chosen, it is said, so that none should witness the funeral. But this is rubbish. Hijras belong to different religions, and our last rites depend on our religion. A hijra who is a Hindu is cremated, while a Muslim hijra is buried. When carrying the corpse of a dead hijra to the graveyard, we shed our women’s clothing and dress instead in shirts and pants, or in a kurta and pajama pants. We do this to hide the fact that the deceased is a hijra.
The hijras are a family. The guru is the mother. Then there’s the dadguru who is the grandmother, and the purdahguru who is the great-grandmother. The guru and his chelas comprise a family. A guru selects a successor and trains him. If a guru fails to choose a successor, the panch, or the leaders of the seven hijra gharanas, choose him. All crucial decisions are made by the panch. Its leaders are wise men who command the respect of the entire community.
Once one decides to become a hijra, there is a christening ceremony, known as a reet, which he must undergo. It’s a bit like the janwa, the thread ceremony of the Brahmins. The rites are performed by the guru and the disciple is initiated. The charter of rules and regulations is explained to the aspirant. These concern little things like how a hijra must walk, and how he must serve water to a visitor. While serving water, the glass must not be held at the top or the middle. Instead, the glass must be balanced on palms joined together. The pallu of the hijra’s sari must not touch anyone as he moves around. One should not lie with his feet facing the guru. The guru’s clothes mustn’t be worn by the chela, nor should the latter utter his guru’s or gharana’s name. The hijra should not talk back to his guru. And so on.
There is a saying among us, that for a hijra it is all words and nothing else. Guru is a word. Chela is a word. The woman in the guru makes him feel motherly toward his chelas, but the man in him makes him authoritarian and dictatorial.
In everyday life, we do not observe the rules of our community that strictly. But if our leaders are around, we do. This is just as it is in mainstream society. At the end of the day, it all depends on how liberal (or otherwise) your guru is.
My guru never imposed restrictions on me. Lataguru did not want me to talk about my life to the press, or allow them to publish my photographs. But other than that she gave me ample freedom. At first, I observed all the rules, because the decision to become a hijra was, after all, mine. But soon there came a time when I rebelled. I could not stand these restrictions on my freedom. I began to give interviews to the media. I appeared on television. I traveled abroad. The community fined me for these transgressions. I paid the fine and committed the “offenses” again. I was all but ostracized by the community. But Lataguru stood by me. She was proud of me because I was educated and had a mind of my own. So what if I broke all the rules?
It is tiresome to swim against the current. I have been swimming against two currents, one society and the other community. Both need to change their attitude. Whereas society needs to confront its biases toward the hijras, the hijras themselves must be forthright. We have paid a hefty price for living an estranged and secluded life. The black sheep in the community, no more than ten percent of our total population, defame the entire community.
To counter this defamation, I have established a support group known as the Maharashtra Trutiya Panthi Sanghatana. We fight for the fundamental rights of hijras. We managed to persuade the state government and the Planning Commission to give us the Adhar Card. Since Hijra sex workers are susceptible to HIV and AIDS, we work towards the eradication of these diseases. We try to obtain housing and employment for the hijras. Change is only possible when the laws change. And for that, the authorities need to be approached. It is happening in other Indian states, so why not here in Maharashtra? In Tamil Nadu the hijras have been given houses. In Madhya Pradesh they have run in elections and won. The hijras have potential. Their families must support them so that they realize their potential.
I work at the local level, state level, national level, and international level, too. I go abroad frequently. I do for my chelas what my guru did for me.
Subhadra was my very first chela. She was murdered in Sheelphata. Many of my other chelas have passed away. Kiran succumbed to AIDS. She loved me selflessly. She was intelligent and disciplined, and had terrific managerial skills. Rupa, who was a fashion designer, also died of AIDS. Payal was a wonderful cook. Kanda poha, omelet, and chicken biryani were her specialties. But she took to drinking excessively and finally died of alcoholism.
I try to save hijras like Kiran, Roopa, and Payal. I try to talk them out of their vices. But in my heart of hearts I know that words are poor consolation. As a hijra myself, I can empathize with their anguish. Their female psyche, trapped in a male body, stifles them. There is no one in this world they can truly call their own. They don’t have an easy means of making a living. Their sex work causes mental pressure and anxiety, and nagging questions about their identity. Their working conditions are gruesome. A hijra often thinks to himself: Sala, what is this life! And to blot out his misery, makes liquor his best friend. But this association proves costly. It eats into one’s vitality. I thus failed to save the lives of Roopa, Kiran, and Payal.
And Shahin. No one who saw her would call her a hijra. She was a Bollywood heroine! She nursed the sick like Florence Nightingale! When my father was dying, I entrusted him to her care. She would buy medicines from the store downstairs and give them to him at the prescribed time. She stood by my mother and brother Shashi like a pillar of strength.
Shahin was Shahid Naik before her christening. He was the son that followed the birth of his elder sister. They were from Konkan. When Shahid was ten, his mother died and he was brought up by his grandfather in Mumbra, Mumbai. As a child, he was fond of household chores. He helped his mother in the kitchen. Though his mother was touched by his concern, the others in the house mocked him. They called him names. They thought he was effeminate. When Shahid grew up, he befriended some homosexual men. That’s how I got to know him. He wanted to become a hijra, but he wasn’t old enough to be initiated. So I advised him not to convert just yet, but to hang out with us and finish college. But Shahid was adamant. He began to live like a hijra in the company of Subhadra and Sangita. Then one day, Shahid Naik became Shahin. Became my chela. Her family had no clue. They thought she was out shooting a film, because that is what she told them when she left home. Shahin never went home after that.
One day Shahin received a call from her uncle. He wanted to meet her. A meeting was arranged, and when the family saw her in a sari they began to wail hysterically. They wanted her to get back into men’s clothes and return home. But Shahin meant business. She stayed with us and earned money.
When Shahin’s younger sister got married, it was Shahin who bore the expenses. The family then took her back into the fold. Today, Shahin’s father is in touch with her. When Shahin goes home on annual visits, she takes gifts for everyone. Her brother refused to speak to her at first, but relented later. Only her stepmother hasn’t come round yet.
Then there’s Kamal. He was the only son of an Ulhasnagar businessman. But from childhood he was fond of cross-dressing; wearing a sari and make-up. The family dismissed this as a kid’s fancy. But one day Kamal told his family: “I will not be able to live as you want me to, as a male.” Saying this, he left home. His best friends were Shiba and Vinnie, and all three of them became my chelas. Kamal’s folks landed up at my place in Thane. They were comforted to learn that their only son was safe and sound, and that we lived together as a family. Today, Kamal’s folks have opened their doors to her. Sometimes she goes home on overnight visits. She’s not in the family business of course, but works instead in a dance bar. She hands over her earnings to her folks, believing it to be her duty, though her parents are well-off and do not need her money.
There’s a family I am related to by blood, and then there are my chelas who are my other family. I need both families and cannot envisage a life without either.

source: http://wordswithoutborders.org/article/lakshmis-story

Hijra Farsi: Secret language knits community

 MUMBAI: It's not often that one stumbles upon a secret language floating around the streets of a busy Indian metropolis, least of all a language that has been alive-and-kicking across the sub-continent for a century or two.

While the language in question is shrouded in mystery, its keepers are anything but obscure. The vivid make-up, rose-red lipstick and colourful saris draped across a body that is neither entirely male nor entirely female make South Asia's Hijra community among the most visible sexual minorities. Yet their lexicon is invisible to civil society, though it remains in use across much of India and Pakistan.

"Nobody besides the Hijra community would understand the language we speak. It was created for the purpose of self-preservation during the British Raj. While literature shows that Hijras occupied a privileged position in ancient India, the British criminalised us and put us behind bars. This language was as a survival mechanism for Hijras," says Simran Shaikh, an attractive and articulate member of the community, speaking to TOI at her guru's sunlit home in Kamathipura's 1st lane, a stretch of Mumbai's red-light district reserved for Hijras.

Shaikh's claims are backed by academic research in India and Pakistan. The language is sometimes referred to as Koti or Hijra Farsi, though it has more in common with Urdu and Hindustani than it does with Persian.

That the language is still in use may have to do with the fact that the community continues to be persecuted in independent India. "Seventy-four percent of the Hijra community has suffered violence and harassment," says Shaikh, who works with Alliance India, an NGO that works on AIDS prevention.

"Today, if there's some information I'd like to communicate with those within my community that the outside world does not need to know, I would use this language. For instance, if there's a police van in sight and I want to warn a member of my community standing on the road, I'd use this code language," says Shaikh.

'Complete language'

Academic research validates the claim that Hijra Farsi is indeed a language and not simply a collection of secret code-words. A research paper by Islamabad-based scholars, Muhammad Safeer Awan and Muhammad Sheeraz, who studied the language spoken amongst Pakistan's Hijra community, shows that the language contains its own unique vocabulary. It has its own syntax that differs from other mainstream languages, making Farsi "as good a language as any other."

Another academic paper by Himadri Roy, professor at Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi, shows that, much like any other language, the language of the Hijras has nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and other parts of speech, with verbs used to complete a sentence.

It's a language that a pretty young Hijra called Ayesha, who has yet to come out of the closet at home, uses when she meets other members of the community. She uses this language while talking to her friends in public, when she doesn't want the rest of the world to know what she's saying. She talks of the words used to allude to an attractive man, as well as words that distinguish men of different age groups. There's a specific word to describe a man in the age group 16-18, and another for one who is 25-30.

"See what I'm wearing," says Ayesha, pointing to her colourful get-up and bright sari. "We call this satla in our language," she adds, referring to a word used for feminine clothes. For Ayesha, a language to call her own has helped her embrace her identity as a Hijra.

source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-10-07/india/42793159_1_secret-language-urdu-alliance-india

Friday, December 27, 2013

The other side of the story

It took just one quick stroke of a country-made ustra (razor) to change a life forever. Ram Kumar Negi was too drugged to struggle, but not enough to numb his pain. Forced down by Ranjeeta, a hijra (eunuch), and his hefty accomplices, and stripped naked, he watched terrorised as they severed his genitals with a sharp knife, leaving a gaping wound.

Negi's shrieks died in the stillness of the dingy basement 'surgery' in a village in Etah district of western Uttar Pradesh. In the usual course of events they would have yielded to a deeper silence. The outwardly raucous world of the hijras is cloaked in its own codes and secrets. For an unwilling initiate like Negi, the brutal reality of castration is usually enervating enough to snuff out any thought of justice or retribution. Not any longer.

In Delhi, which harbours 15,000 hijras, probably the largest number anywhere in the country, the fight back has begun. A determined group of men are filing criminal charges against their castrators and seeking help from local courts to bring the perpetrators of this brutal practice to book. Examples:
  • In March, 1993, Negi lodged criminal complaints in Jahangirpuri and Pitampura police stations in Delhi. When no action was taken, he approached the district court which ordered the police to carry out an inquiry.
  • Jagmohan Dhyani, 25, alias Jyoti, has filed a criminal complaint against Gharsan Khan whom he accuses of severing his genitals in 1987.
  • Kale Naik, 19, alias Baby, is approaching a Delhi court to get the police to inquire into his castration after the Nabi Karim police station in central Delhi refused to register a case.
Khairati Lal Bhola, a spokesman of the All India Hijra Kalyan Sabha, formed in 1984 to protect their rights, says: "While castrations had always been clandestinely forced on unwilling males, nobody else had the guts to retaliate like these people."

But the complainants have realised it is an uphill struggle. The police are unsympathetic. Braving the cynicism and ridicule of reluctant law-enforcers can often feel like a second assault.

Even the simple act of lodging an FIR is an ordeal. Ideally, the legal machinery should swing into motion once the victim files a complaint at the local police station.
The complaint, normally registered under Section 154 of the CrPC, would be followed up by an investigation and challan or charge-sheet under Section 173.

The case would then be tried by the concerned trial court. However, when Negi, Naik and Dhyani first approached the police, they refused to even register a case and did so only after the courts intervened.
"We don't like getting involved in the affairs of this community. They are not really part of our society, so why should we impose our laws on them?" argues a senior police official.

Worse, emasculation is not listed as a cognisable offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). "Though we don't possess sufficient data on this, it would normally fall under Section 326 or 365 of the IPC, which is "abduction and grievous injury with a sharp weapon", says L.C. Amarnathan, director, National Crime Records Bureau.

The bureau has no statistics as to how many cases of forcible emasculation may have occurred in the country. But R. Tiwari, Delhi's additional commissioner of police, crime, asserts: "I don't think there is any trend which shows a rise in forced castrations. There may be a few isolated cases, but nothing beyond that."
The local courts have been far more sympathetic. When the rebelling eunuchs complained of police inaction, the courts ordered the force to carry out investigations. But as Negi has realised, that hasn't been of too much help either. He alleges that the police did a cursory investigation and closed the case for "lack of evidence".

This is to some extent a genuine problem: conclusive evidence of coercion is certainly hard to come by. The hijra mafia which reportedly controls the castrations operates under a veil of secrecy and terror. Victims are threatened with death if they break the code of silence.

The Hijra Kalyan Sabha alleges that the hijra community operates through a countrywide network of hijra mandis, where a newly castrated eunuch is auctioned to the highest bidder.
"The auction is conducted with claps - a single clap denotes Rs 1,000. Understandably, the premium is highest on fair, clean-limbed boys who are likely to be high earners," explains Bhola.
However, the entire operation remains a secret as the hijra community is built on a pyramid structure at the apex of which are the elusive gurus, who are not only much older than the others in their ring but also exercise control over a particular ilaqa or territory for the purpose of extracting badhai (tips on joyous occasions).

According to Bhola, at least a thousand young men, many of them married and with families, are forcibly castrated each year. However, the Delhi Police reject such claims as highly exaggerated.

Dhyani talks of a hijra mafia operating in the Chakku Mohalla area of Dehra Dun where he fell into its hands. Its modus operandi is simple: lure fair, young Pahari boys into its company with temptations of good food, liquor or drugs and an easy life.
Like most victims of forcible castration, Dhyani himself acknowledges that his trouble began when he had voluntary contact with the hijra community. As an adolescent, he would loiter in the Mohalla in the company of local hijras.

In 1987, when he was 18, he says, he was kidnapped by them and brought to Delhi. He was then forced into peddling drugs and prostitution. And then one night, after being drugged, he was taken to a local 'doctor' who severed his genitals.

Negi, who was castrated a year ago. admits he used to have regular homosexual contact with hijras in his hometown of Hardwar before he was abducted and brought to Delhi.

Clean-faced and slender, Negi was renamed Rama and forced to dress as a woman, offer sex and pick pockets. When he tried to flee he was caught and tortured, and his legs scalded with flaming kerosene. And then one night, he was drugged and taken to Htah where another 'doctor' castrated him.
Police admit that it is difficult to arrest the 'doctors' who specialise in such castrations as they are usually in cahoots with the hijra mafia. One of the leading practitioners of this gruesome practice is said to be Kallo Haji. a resident of Vivek Vihar in east Delhi, who served a short sentence in 1987 on grounds of causing "grievous injury with a sharp weapon".

"He performs castrations only at the behest of the gurus and charges Rs 3,000 per case," alleges Bhola. But Haji vehemently denies this accusation and the local police maintain that he keeps to himself and does not cause trouble in the region.

Another alleged emasculator, against whom Dhyani has filed a criminal complaint for castrating him, is Gharsan Khan, 55. He is currently an undertrial in the Kakkad Dooma metropolitan court in Delhi, facing charges of murder following the death on the so-called operating table of one of the persons he was castrating.

Ombir Singh, assistant commissioner of police, Nand Nagri, says: "In the course of his first interrogation, Gharsan admitted to having performed at least a thousand castrations, out of which just one misfired and resulted in death." Khan now denies that he ever told the police so and maintains that he just rents out rickshaws for a living.

Probably one of the few occasions when a section of the hijra mafia was brought to book was in Ahmedabad in 1982. Hanif Vora, 23, a resident of Chhota Udaipur near Ahmedabad, who had been abducted and castrated in 1981, filed criminal complaints against his assailants in July 1982.
Twelve years ago, Mastubhai Maiik, along with his four accomplices, all hijras, were convicted and sentenced to five years' imprisonment each. But, Vora's friend Pratap Thakur dejectedly points out: That didn't get back his manhood."

Meanwhile, Negi undaunted by the police, recently closed his complaint for lack of evidence. "I won t let my castrators get away," he says, already contemplating a fresh legal appeal. Although he has not met with much success so far, he knows he has set an important example by striking back.
Kale Naik, too, is determined to get justice. "The Government punishes every crime. Why doesn't it take notice of something so inhuman as this?" he asks. But in the ceaseless bustle that envelops Kale's tiny tenement, the question hangs unanswered.

Source: 'http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/determined-group-of-forcibly-castrated-men-file-criminal-charges-against-their-abductors/1/293288.html'