Last friday I had the misfortune of driving to the city railway station and then the airport which meant not just braving the usual traffic woes but two additional ones. Namma Metro work had started right in the heart of M.G.Road which meant a wait at the Mayo Hall junction for a good 20 minutes. There was a flight to catch in about an hour's time and we had not factored in this new development. Namma Bengalooreans are not surprised by these any more because this has been the story of our lives for the past 5 years - roads blocked /barricaded/made one way for overbridge constructions/ widening of roads and now for Namma metro.
The second thing that I noticed was the proliferation of Hijras begging - actually they were demanding money - at the various traffic signals. This was never the case in Bangalore - perhaps a stray one occasionally but never so rampant. Where did they come from? Certainly they were from Karnataka as they spoke Kannada.

I am ashamed to say that my initial response was one of revulsion as if it was their fault that they were so. I wondered why they were let loose on the streets in stead of being locked up. But then for what crime? It isn't their fault that they are
physically and psychologically different and cannot have access to a decent job. All applications have a column for saying Male/female. So what do they specify there? I suppose they have been forced into begging and prostitution because society has denied them access to more decent means of livelihood. I have seen some of them act aggressively or indulge in lewd gestures at train stations in Mumbai but I guess that is their rebellion against being treated as non persons. Historically they have enjoyed a modicum of acceptance in Indian society where they were employed as guards to protect the ladies, or royal court dancers and they had some roles to perform during all weddings and child births in the community. It is possible that contempt for them began in the British Raj days when authorities supposedly "attempted to eradicate hijras, which they saw as "a breach of public decency."

Where I grew up, we do not have the tradition of involving Hijras in weddings and child births and so my only knowledge of them came from mythology and history and some grotesque portrayals of eunuchs I had seen in films. So it was a shock when I saw them in flesh and blood for the first time in a Mumbai train when I was 36 years old. He/she came and sat right next to me even though there were other empty seats. I was terrified and so I got down in the next station and took another train to my destination. Fear of someone different? societal conditioning? Ignorance? I do not know which but that was my reaction to a perfectly harmless person whose only fault was being different from what I knew to be normal.

According to the Wiki article they "they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories". And they are in extreme danger of HIV infection.
It seems to me that they can be integrated into society by absorbing them in jobs which require physical strength which they seem to possess in plenty - traffic constables? Security guards for buildings? construction workers? Apparently some districts in India use them as tax collectors. I am sure there are many areas where they can be employed and taken away from begging and prostitution.

One thing bothers me though. Even though these people do not seem to have a gainful employment or an assured source of income they are always dressed in good saris or salwar suits and wear make up (albeit cheap) and jewellery. Do they make enough to afford all this or do they have the backing of someone else who provides them with all this and makes money out of them?