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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hijra (India)

Absoluteastronomy.com

[Categories: Hindu law, Islam, LGBT, Bangladeshi culture, Indian culture, Pakistani culture, Transgender in non-western cultures]

In the culture of the Indian subcontinent a hijra is a physically male or intersex person identifying as "the third sex" or gender of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Hijras describe themselves as "neither man nor woman", though they usually refer to themselves with female pronouns and grammatical gender, and wish to be referred to as female. Hijras trace their historical roots to Hinduism, mirroring androgynous deities, and were present in the royal courts of Islamic rulers as well.

The group consists of people born with a male body, but with a non-male or female gender identity; people who in the West would be called transgender, transsexual or androgynous; and also people born with ambiguous genitalia. By some reports, occasionally there have also been people who belong to none of these categories who are forced to become hijras, by performing the crude castration / genital reassignment surgery ritual on them without their consent.

In Hindu contexts, hijras belong to a special caste and are special devotees of the mother goddess Bahuchara Mata. Within Muslim contexts, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, hijras believe their third gender is the result of God's will. All hijras, whether Hindu or Muslim, have been affected by Islamic practices. They bury their dead like Muslims instead of the normal Hindu cremation and are said to have guarded the gravesite of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

Becoming a hijra is a process of socialization into the group through a relationship characterised as chela "student" to guru "teacher" and the gradual assumption of androgynous gender role. Each guru lives with at least five chelas; her chelas assume her surname and are considered part of her lineage. Chelas are expected to give their income to their guru, who manages the household. The culmination of this process is a religious ritual that includes castration. It is expected that a hijra's penis and testes will be removed but not all hijras do so. It is unknown what percentage of hijras are true eunuchs. In modern times, rarely hijras may also have recourse to sex reassignment surgery.

Hijras usually earn a living through prostitution; in premodern times, often this was as Hindu temple prostitutes. They also perform traditional religious ceremonies at marriages and the birth of male babies. In Islamic societies, they were associated with the ruling class and hired as court eunuchs.

In modern times, hijras now face discrimination and have primarily resorted to prostitution. Other possibilities of earning a living are rarely open to them.

Hijra attendance at birth and wedding ceremonies are usually uninvited. The ceremonies are comprised of music, singing, and sexually suggestive dancing. These are intended to bring good luck and fertility. The host pays the hijras a fee for their efforts, which is an established feature in the culture of the Indian subcontinent. In recent times, foreign negative attitudes have affected the Hijra's cultural status. Some now view them with contempt and bribe hijras to perform their ceremonies hastily as most believe they have supernatural powers attributed to their castration that, if offended, bring bad luck.

The ancient Kama Sutra mentions them performing oral sex on male parishioners at Hindu temples, although due to their identification as a third gender, they and the men they have sex with are not accurately described as gay in the Western sense. Some Hijras find husbands. Commonly the Hijra-rights groups support gay rights issues in the Indian subcontinent, but this is an emergent situation.

During British colonialism negative attitudes towards hijras were imported from Europe. The British passed laws outlawing their practices. Many Hindu temples with homosexual depictions were effaced of them. After independence, anti-hijra laws were repealed, but a law outlawing castration, a central part of the hijra community, was left intact, though rarely enforced.

Many modern Hijras, faced with health concerns and discrimination, have become politically active. For example, they have formed HIV /AIDS awareness groups to combat health problems within their communities. Other Hijras have been elected to high political positions.

In November of 2000, Asha Devi - a hijra - was elected mayor of Gorakhpur. The city had a population of approximately 500,000 as of 1991.

The term "hijra" in this context is to be distinguished from an Arabic word of the same transliteration. The last consonant in the South Asian term is not pronounced like the English "r" or the Arabic ra or Ray. The Arabic word means "migration". See Hijra (Islam).

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Okay...I was a little surprised to find this on an astronomy site of all places. The web is truly a strange place.

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