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Hijras The Third Gender of India

Hijras - The Third Jender of India
Photograper by Takeshi Ishikawa

  Myriad forms of trans-gendered cultures, such as Berdache that existed among the Native Americans, used to be found throughout the world. Yet, those communities would follow the path of extinction as the wave of Christian colonization and socialization spread, while it made the practice of trans-gendered cultures illegal as well as a form of stigmatization. Furthermore, it would be consumed and swallowed by the so-called gay-culture. Within this trend, surprisingly there still exists the third gender called “Hijra” within the Indian cultural sphere that is distinctly different from the conceptual underpinnings of what is perceived as a trans-gender in the West. The Western and the Japanese society possess a dualistic perspective on gender, which is either male or female. As Shiva, the Supreme Lord, is occasionally described as a hermaphrodite, gender differentiation within the Indian society, largely comprised of Hindus, is also very peculiar in its kind, seen in the existence of a middle gender that combines both characteristics of a man and a woman.

   Hijras claim to be, “born intersexes.” Therefore, it is still believed today in Indian society that, “Hijras are born intersexes” or “hermaphrodites.” Most Hijras, however, are born as “men.” Subsequently, those who feel at odds with their own sex from the time of boyhood to puberty, become Hijras as they sever their own, male sexual organs. In that sense, Hijras can be called the trans-genders of India. When the word, Hijra, is interpreted in the Western sense, it would be a complex intertwinement of trans-sexualities such as, Transvestism, Gender Identity Disorder and Gender Disorder, which forms a trans-gendered identify that is “uniquely Indian.” Nevertheless, a Hijra will never claim to be a trans-gender, and this underlines the fundamental difference between how a trans-gendered identity is defined in the West. Just as men and women play their roles in society, Hijras, who are neither men nor women, belong to a special category of gender, and fulfill a socio-cultural role that is only reserved for them.

   The most well known role for a Hijra is to bestow in God’s name, “the power to procreate as well as create new life for newly-born male babies and for newly-wed couples.” In addition, they provide entertainment through their performance act to those who have gathered around for the occasion. Also, the Hijra societies are interconnected throughout the country and each community is comprised along territorial lines. However, in recent years, the congratulatory acts given by Hijras have been rapidly declining. The breakneck speed of India’s Westernization and urbanization within the past decade have pushed the jobless Hijras out of their homes to visit commercial establishments as well as families and demand monetary compensation by forcefully conferring good wishes onto them. This situation has created a vicious cycle as it has driven some Hijras to beg or to prostitute, which in turn earns them disdain, further leading to the loss of their true profession.
   Whether it be India or not, for a millennia, gender has formed the basis of human identity. Knowing the varied cultures of Hijras serves as an indicator for universal topics such as our gender and sexuality.

Photos and copyright by Takeshi Ishikawa




Takeshi Ishikawa Ishikawa50@hotmail.com
Photos and copyright by Takeshi Ishikawa
by ishikawa3529 | 2012-02-05 20:02 | Text Overview