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?
14 Responses
  1. Artnavy Says:

    I feel a mix of dread and revulsion for them - probably since I have seen them at their lewdest in Mumbai

    But I am sure some of them would like to lead a normal working life-but maybe no one willingly employs them?

    have you seen the documentary on Travel & living on them? they were almost endearing....

  2. Pranjal Says:

    Hi Usha,

    Thought you might like reading this - one among many of Sonia's brilliant writing.

    Btw, was trying to find the article on Gitanjali Nagpal in your archives. Couldn't find it.


  3. Mahadevan Says:

    Almost all the hijras in Mumbai speak Tamil. You have a very sensible suggestion for their employment - using them as guards/watchmen, traffic constables etc. They can also be given licence to drive autorickshaws and taxis. They have the manliness to keep evil men at a distance ( out of fear or repulsion) though they identify more with women.

    They do not collect money for their survival. They extract, by use of threats and that make one think that there are men behind them to make a huge fortune.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Yup! They have suddenly increased in Bangalore and they keep touching and demanding money near the signals. Most of the auto drivers complain of being harrassed by them...
    It's actually a menace...

    - Sam

  5. Hip Grandma Says:

    We did a survey on High Risk Behavior leading to AIDS infection and interviewed eunuchs as part of our survey.Tata Steel does employ them in their material handling section and safely assigns night shifts to them.That was the first time i interacted with them at a personal level.And this group was very different from those that pester passengers in railway compartments and other public places.Giving them a chance to lead dignified lives will be a great favor that society can do for them.

  6. Savani Says:

    A lot of the hijras are not really eunuchs. They just pretend to be. Its a huge cult. Obviously my heart goes out to the ones that are so from birth, but I really have a hard time garnering sympathy for the fake ones. And mumbai is rampant with them.

  7. Have been accosted by them too- once on MG Rd and twice on Commercials, on the same day. I have no clue how to react and am scared to tell them no, in case they create a scene.
    I feel so sorry for them, but after the second time, I was indignant at being cornered into paying money to them.
    I wish something could be done for them, where they could be incorporated into mainstream society and live as respectable citizens, like anybody else.. its not their fault that they are the way they are..
    Traffic wardens and security people are a good idea...

  8. WhatsInAName Says:

    To tell you the truth, I am scared of them. As Artnavy says, they are at their lewdest here in Mumbai. Sometimes even I wonder, if there is something more than meets the eye. Why cant they lead a normal life?
    Have you seen the movie "Traffic Signal"? Its supposed to be a big mafia out there on the roads. Scary!!!

  9. Priyanka Says:

    I actually never did really think about it but now that you do mention..yeah..they are always well turned out..I wonder how??!!

  10. i agree with ur suggesstion on the kinbd of jobs they cud take up!! wish someone out there is listening.. i do dread their sight.. don't know what u do will provoke them.. i hav faced a few situations with them in mumbai

  11. Well I had to do a story on them once.. a lot of them are forced into the flesh trade. And they sing and dance at weddings. its considered auspicious. and yes a lot of them are not born that way. some are mutilated etc. sigh. i did a post on this once.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I too had couple of experiences with them.I had hired an auto for my work and suddenly when we stopped at a traffic signal for it to lit green a huge person came and sat beside me.I was terrified.And that person started demanding for money.And soon auto was surronded by two more people like them n scared me to death.I tried giving them some money after their demand but they wanted 100 Rupees.Can u beleive it....100 rupees for nothing.

    And auto driver sat silent watching all this.I shouted at him like anything being so irresponsible for what was happening in front of him.I dont know why they scare people like that.And dont ask me how they surround your house on some occassions like a marriage.They appear from no where.

    Though i believe in "No human is harmful" but I am definetly scared of them.


  13. Usha Says:

    Art: It is nice to hear what Hipgran has to say about them being employed in Tata steel. They seem like an exploited group who have not learnt that it is possible to live with dignity. May be if the government and society worked a little more to show them it is possible to give up their old ways of life and earn a decent livelihood?
    No, missed that documentary.

    Pranjal: yes, it was a great post. Thank you for the link. Bobby could probably be a role model for these people. Apart from their economic and educational background, there is also a difference between different types of Hijras. So perhaps it isnt that easy for many of them to become like Bobby darling.
    With the template change, the link stoped working and it was just a blank white box. So I had to take the post to drafts.

    Mahadevan:I hear that they have a strong nexus with the police in many states and that could be one reason why they indulge in extortion?

    Anon:I suppose police should do something about them now?Perhaps there are some NGOs which can help them?

    Hipgran: It is very nice to know Tata steel is playing a role to alter their lives. Perhaps we need to more for them.

    Dotmom:I suppose there are bound to be fakes when there is easy money to make.

    JLT:I suppose our fear shows and that makes them bold to demand. Perhaps we should learn to handle them with determination.

    WIN: Yes, it seems they will stoop to anything to get their money and most of are so scared to allow them to stop to what they can and preempt it by paying up.

    Well heeled:How? and hey, you have a very nice blog there. Although none of those would be useful for me, I like looking at those products and styles. :)

    ITW:Most people seem to have bad experiences with them.

    The MM:That was shocking!I did not know it got this bad!! You handled it very well although most people would have paid up and that is why they indulge in that kind of behaviour.

    Meena:I too saw the auto drivers paying up without protest. Although I was secretly happy to know that there was someone who could harrass the auto drivers ( mean of me no?) I was shocked at the attitude on both sides.

  14. Pradeep Nair Says:

    It's sad that they are left on the fringes of society. And, the common people look at them with revulsion and hatred. Just wondering if there is any NGO or similar organisation works for their benefit?