Hijra In India

What if you were born male, but identified as female? For many people, that would make their gender female (and I personally agree). In India, they have a “third gender” of people called hijra. As with transgender individuals in just about any country, hijra face discrimination and abuse.

However, there seems to be more and more articles demanding support and equality, and there was even recently a Hijra Habba (festival). Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a spokesperson, explains in the Global Post, “We have no constitutional rights. . . We don’t have voting rights; often we cannot get housing. This is not allowing us to have an identity of our own.” This leaves over a million hijra in India who are unable to vote, although this may be changing. Laxmi goes on to explain in the Daily News that changing perception of hijra and hopefully making them less resented is important. Further, she says, “I want the government to give a separate set of privileges to hijras and transgenders, for example create a different type of sex in the passport as ‘others’ and not label us as males at one time and female at another.” However there is one state in India, Tamil Nadu, that allows hijra to select a transgender option when voting as well as on ration cards.

Both the Global Post and Jezebel note that while hijra are often stigmatized, there are occasions in which they are viewed in a positive light. Tanya explained in the Global Post that historically and still today hijra are welcomed in households to sing and dance at weddings and births and that when doing so they are “treated with respect.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly equal a living and many hijra turn to sex work to survive.

Hijra dancing, courtesy of Joel Elliot/Global Post

One of the women quoted in the Global Post article has undergone sex reaffirment surgery and still finds living complicated – as she was biologically born male but is truly female and all of her paperwork lists her as male. Even being able to afford sex reaffirment surgery sounds near impossible, as it costs a hijra anywhere from $17,000 to $31,000 (which is 8 to 15 lakhs rupees). The article goes on to explain that an unknown percentage opt for castration, as it is a considerably more affordable option, running only $100 to $120 (so, 5,000 to 6,000 rupees). The answer to all of this? The article asks for equal rights and for the government to prevent discrimination.

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About Holly Moyseenko

Holly Moyseenko is a sex educator living in Ohio. She is an advocate of positive and healthy sexuality. Holly currently works for a non-profit health organization as a health educator, and also teaches workshops that focus on many topics within the realm of healthy sexuality. In her spare time, she also is an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, gardens, reads anything within reach, drinks copious amounts of tea, and naps with her two dogs.

  • Michaela

    We spent a few weeks on this topic in my anthro seminar! I was interested to look at the hijras as yet another representation of the “third sex”…we get this with transgendered individuals in our own culture, with sworn virgins in Albania, the travesti in Brazil. Interesting to see how hijras fit in!