Famous Indian playwright, Mahesh Dattani, has played a key role in opening my eyes to the sordid truths that lie in the depths of our Indian society. I love his plays and have learnt many new things about the taboos that rule supreme in the Indian ideological paraphernalia. As a Nation, we are too stereotyped to accept positive changes which may demand set minds to think outside their boundaries and render discomfort. But unless we do so, we may not see the whole picture.
Hermaphrodites of India constitute the world’s second largest sub-community and are, perhaps, the most unfortunate Indians to live a whole lifespan in darkness, denial and rejection. They are also humans like you and I and by birth, they belong to the Indian soil, hence, are Indians. Yes, they are different but they are not abnormal.
Hijras, as they are commonly known, live in the lowest visibility in the society, and are ill-treated, deprived and disowned for no fault of their own. What can they possibly do about the body they are born in? However, we behave as if it is their fault and shun them off totally. But looking at the same picture through their eyes, a very painful story begins to unfold. They are subjected to unfair treatments, torments, denied basic human rights, denied education, prevented from making a better living and yet blamed for their very existence.
I believe hermaphrodites are born in every religion and thus religion should not be a reason for such disparity in social status. Historically, hermaphrodites were not outcasts but were revered individuals who held important responsibilities in noble households. But their status degenerated with time. Why? I have, personally, seen people afraid of them, abhor them and look at them as disturbances. But I have also spoken to a couple of such people and found that they are very much like the rest of us with only their sexuality at stake. Once during a train journey, I spent a quite some time talking to a hermaphrodite who happened to know 16 foreign languages, could sing in the most mellifluous voice (without any training) and was pretty! But then, the life this eunuch led was of pity. I imagined that if such is the talent hidden in this person, what not could have been achieved had the eunuch not been denied rights to education!
According to Ayesha Hoda, from South Asia Online:
“The Indian subcontinent saw hermaphrodites in the role of advisors in households of the nobility. Many of them guarded sacred or important places, and acted as a medium of communication between men and women. They were given a place in the rulers’ courts during the reign of the Mughals and often had high positions during this era. This is reflected from not only historical sources and references but also when we see them as characters in literary works of or about that period.
They have been acknowledged in ancient Hindu scriptures. They were linked to Sufi saints and shrines and due to Judea-Christian-Islamic influences, were thought to have special powers of blessing as well as cursing others; they were then treated with reverence, especially in Muslim-dominated areas. Some of them, a minority though, were engaged in prostitution and/or providing entertainment at social events.
Ironically, it was the ‘modern’ British system and western way of thinking that was mainly responsible for ostracizing them. Their new status of social outcasts deprived them of their rights to live as normal citizens and earn their living in an honourable manner.
Today, the only career paths open to them are begging, singing and dancing at social events such as weddings, birth ceremonies, etc. and becoming sex workers. Even educated hermaphrodites, from well-bred families in South India, claim to have been thrown out by their families and find it difficult to find employment in careers of their choice.”
On 15 April 2014, Supreme Court of India ruled that transgenders should be treated as a third category of gender and as a socially and economically backward class entitled to reservation in Education and Jobs. While, the ruling was hailed by activists and transgenders alike, it is said that a broad social acceptance will take longer because of the stigma associated with them. (Source: Wikipedia)
How can this social stigma be removed unless we begin to think different with our “little grey cells” (Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie)?
Is modern India, really modern, after all?
Can we succeed as a nation if we deny a major part of our identity?
Do only rich and poor make the Indian identity?
What can we do to flourish as a nation?
Quoted from: http://www.atheismresource.com/
Luckily, things are getting better in India for hermaphrodites. Rituparna Bhowmik wrote, in 2008, that, “Some propose creating a special category to help hermaphrodites fit in as they are, as in southern Tamil Nadu state, which recently granted transsexuals and transgendered people a “third gender” status with certain privileges.” Changes began occurring in 2005 nationwide. New passports have been issued in India with “E” (for eunich) as an option and is recognized by the government as a third gender. Hermaphrodites are now serving in local political office, holding regular jobs, and can be seen daily on public transport. They aren’t seen as disgusting anymore. While there is still some growth to be had in universal acceptance of them, India is starting to get back to its Hindu-based understanding of them. Whether their religion encourages them to treat hermaphrodites as people, or it’s a result of modern scientific understanding, the outcome is what’s most important.
It’s taken time in this country for us to view interracial couple the same way we view everyone else. Gay couples don’t get the same amount of stares they used to either. Cultural acceptance of everyone is a good goal for any country. Hermaphrodites in India have had a long and rugged history. They went from being revered to despised, and now back to being accepted. They may never be treated as supernaturally powerful human beings again. But, I’m sure just treating them like human beings is enough for them. They desire equal rights, a safe place to call home, the ability to earn a living, and a chance at happiness. That’s all any of us can hope for regardless of the country we are born in or the genitals we have between our legs.
But, there is a lot more left to do, and that begins with what we can invest in them…beginning with a more positive and accepting outlook…
This might be an interesting read: http://goo.gl/wb8qWg
Let’s wake up to a better tomorrow.
Copyright2014. Amrita Kar Roy. All Rights Reserved.