The spectrum of sexuality across the globe is divided and labeled with multiple names. Amidst the diversity, one name that still looks forward to get social recognition and assimilation is Hijra. Often referred to as Chakka or Kinnar, these are the people who do not identify with either of the genders they were designated with at birth.
A word closely related to the concept, and gaining popularity in the West, is ‘transgender’. But, the Indian society, which in itself can be considered as a colossal entity, defies any such transgression.
Instead, the supposed third gender has formed distinct communities, with anecdotes that go hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. This is partly why the Indian communities seldom refer to the word transgender.
The fight of this marginalized section of the society finally got their recognition with Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014. The bill was aimed at ending the bigotry faced by the community.
Spiritual leaders have played a part in changing the dynamics and have tried to bring the third-gender community to the forefront. The Sukh Dua Samaj by Baba Ram Rahim was one of the many efforts that aimed at providing eunuchs equal rights.
Another important win for the community was the opening up of Masjid Syed Gauhar Ali Shah Qadeem for them. Located in Rangpuri, near India’s biggest international airport, the mosque appears quite busy every Friday. While everything else seems normal, the mostly male worshippers are surprised to see 20-odd transgender people praying alongside them.
The priest at the wheel of the mosque for the past 18 years, Mohammed Iqbal, says: “Islam is about uniting everyone, not creating divisions.” However, the entire scenario is more complex than it seems. Hijra, Kothi, Kinnar, Shiv-Shakti and Aravani are the words that one might come across, depending on the region they are from India.
Wearing garnish makeup, and cross dressed as women, they are still fighting for basic human rights. A key distinction that they face in India, is the ritual of leaving one’s home. It is beyond will and a eunuch has to undergo induction into a society of hijras led by an elder, popularly referred to as Nayak or Guru.
The inductees are known as Chela, and have a particular code of conduct. As a means for confidentiality, they often converse in Farsi-inflected variations of their local language.
Often seen on traffic signals begging for money and giving blessings in return, their presence still brings mixed feelings to people’s minds. While their attendance is considered auspicious, and they are welcomed at ceremonies like weddings and child birth, their means of earning a livelihood does little for the respect they claim. Many of them participate in the sex industry in order to make ends meet.
It is no surprise that the rate of HIV among them is more than 100 times India’s average. Amidst all the chaos and mixed reactions, Transgender Persons Bill and Mohammed Iqbal’s vision have brought a slight shift in the beliefs of people. Developments like these have created an impact and started the transition.
India’s first Hijra mayor and school principal are also examples of change in people’s mindsets. The typical loud clap – a sign of their existence and a demand for recognition – still awaits the day when they will be given rights equivalent to the other two genders.