Who is a transgender?
As defined by the Oxford dictionary a transgender or transsexual is a person who feels emotionally that they want to live, dress, etc as a member of the opposite sex, especially one who has a medical operation to change their sexual organs. The word transgender is an umbrella term which includes people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex. It may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine and sometimes it is also used to refer people who belong to a third gender. Infrequently the term is also used to define cross-dressers regardless of their gender identity. The term transsexual was introduced to English in 1949 by David Oliver Cauldwell and popularized by Henry Benjamin in 1966.
Plight of transgender in India.
In our day to day life we come across transgender people or hijras almost every day. Men wearing bright makeup and donning a saree while clapping their hands in traffic signal points, buses and trains are a common sight. When confronted by such hijras we immediately make a small donation to get rid of them. They are a source of shame to our society and we generally make derogatory comments about them and make fun of them. But, we never try to understand them as a fellow human being, their condition of living and how do they survive on a day to day basis. Since our childhood we are made to believe that they are evil and we should stay away from them so that no harm befalls us. They are mistreated, assaulted and abused for who they are and yet we have a superstition that a curse by a hijra will destroy our lives. An irony!
The Indian society is a much closed society. Talking about sex and sexual orientation is considered as a taboo. As, kids, while growing up we never talk about sex with our parents or elders and we are left to learn about it from magazines and various other materials. I remember in school when we first got to learn about human reproduction our biology teacher subtly omitted that part and left us to study it on our own. As a teen aged boy there were various questions in my mind while seeing the changes in my body and yet there was no one to clear the doubt. In this way we oppress ourselves and the biggest trauma is suffered by the person who can‟t identify his sexual orientation or gender. He tends to behave as a person of the opposite gender and is ridiculed by his fellow mates. Parents of such kids go to doctors for “treatment” to cure their child of this horrible “disease”. By doing so we are slowly and slowly alienating ourselves from something natural. This behaviour is ingrained in our culture and as such when a young person identifies as a transgender he is scared and confused, the society which he lives in does not accept who he is and ridicules him as a freak.
Who are the Hijras?
The word hijra is a Hindi-Urdu word derived from the Semitic Arabic root “Hjr” which translates to “leaving one‟s tribe.” The Indian usage has traditionally been translated into English as “eunuch”, where the irregularity of the male genitalia is central to the definition. However, in general hijras are born male and only a few are born with intersex (a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born of reproductive anatomy that doesn‟t seem to fit the typical definitions of male or female) variations. Some hijras undergo an initiation rite into the hijra community called nirwaan, which refers to the removal of the penis, scrotum and testicles.
Transgender and Hindu mythology.
In the Tamil version of the Mahabharata when Lord Krishna asks for a sacrifice to be made to Goddess Kali as a part of an ayudha-puja, Aravana the son of Arjuna volunteers. By doing so Lord Krishna offers him three boons, the first boon asked by Aravana was that of a heroic death on the battlefield by the hands of a great hero. The second boon was being able to watch the entire 18 day war and lastly the third boon was that Aravana wanted to be married before his sacrifice. However, when no woman turned up fearing the inevitable doom of widowhood, Lord Krishna took his female form of Mohini and thus married Aravana and spent the night with him. This inspires the hijras to accept Lord Aravana as their patron God.
The small village of Koovagam in Tamil Nadu organises an annual festival on the new year of the Tamil Lunar calendar in which hijras from all over India come and gather. Hijras consider themselves as „Mohini‟, where the priest of Aravana‟s temple marries them off for a day and then cut of their mangalsutras, making them widows and thereby re-enacting the marriage and sacrifice of Aravana.
The way ahead.
In April 2014 the Supreme Court of India declared transgender to be a “third gender” in Indian law. Justice K.S. Dhinakaran noted in his decision that, “seldom, our society realizes or cares to realize the trauma, agony and pain which the members of the transgender community undergo nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the transgender community especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex.” He further commented that non recognition of the identity of hijra/transgender persons denies them equal protection of law, thereby leaving them extremely vulnerable to harassment, violence, and sexual assault in public spaces, at home and in jail, also by the police. Sexual assault including molestation, rape, forced anal and oral sex, gang-rape and stripping is being committed with impunity and there are reliable statistics and materials to support such activities. Further non recognition of hijras/transgender persons results in them facing extreme discrimination in all spheres of society, especially in the field of employment, education and healthcare. They also face huge discrimination in access to public spaces such as restaurants, cinemas, shopping malls etc. Further, access to public toilets is also a serious problem, since there are no separate toilets for them they are forced to use the men‟s toilets where they are prone to sexual assault and harassment. Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity impairs equality before law and equal protection of law thereby violating Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Slowly but surely our society is changing. Although they are still barred from legal marriage or schooling the government now recognizes the gender “E” in government papers and official documents. In the olden days hijras used to work as female servants, they were also kept as trusted life guards in female areas of the Mughal harems. The hijras are normal people like us and we have to start treating them as such. They must have equal right to education, healthcare, politics, basically in every sphere of our society which is accessible to us. They must not be discriminated if we want them to integrate into our society for they are one of us. The shining example of Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan who was born as Ratnikanta Pradhan, now serving as a Commercial tax officer in the Odhisa Financial Services, the first transgender person to do so should inspire us to treat them equally and with respect for they are no less than us.