The term “hijra” is very widely used term in Hindi (and a few other languages). But when it comes to finding an equivalent term in English, it is a tad bit more complex. Terms like transgender, transexual and asexual all refer to a set of people with a non-specific sexual identity but are not exactly equivalents of “hijra”. A simpler way of defining them would be to say that they are a set of people who do not fit into either of the two genders that are officially accepted in most countries, male and female.
People with Kleinfelter’s Syndrome (XXY sex chromosome) or Turner’s Syndrome (X0 sex chromosomes) fall into the category who due to chromosomal mutations in the fetal stage are born with a genetic defect which affects their reproductive systems, rendering them sexless and hence, infertile.
What is important to know is the widespread ignorance about this category of people and the derogatory use of the term to signify the class of people belonging to the category. Often have I come across a group of “hijras” being invited to dance on the birth of a newborn in a house and provide them with blessings for which they get paid a meager amount. Also, a group of them roaming about inside train compartments and buses asking people for alms is another very common sight.
A long talk with Hema, a “hijra” I once met during one such train journey made me realize how neglected and mistreated they are. From being driven out of her home by her own parents to being deprived of basic education, food, and a means of earning to being abused and called names to begging in trains, she had seen it all. It is not just her story but the story of almost every other “hijra” in our country (or for that matter in most others). It is indeed sorrowful when we realize that these innocent people are deprived of their basic rights as humans only because they were born with a genetic disorder for which they are not responsible.
Living in a world where a huge section of the population belongs to this sub-group, it comes as a huge shock when we see absolutely no representatives from their group in any respected (and not respectable) profession.
“Hijras” are widely ostracized and looked down upon which deprives them of any opportunity to get good education or to secure a proper job to earn a livelihood which leaves them to the only option left - begging. It should also be noted that being born without a well developed reproductive system does not imply that they are incapable of functioning properly in other spheres of life. They are not intellectually challenged and are very well capable of performing activities that any other individual can if they are provided with the opportunity to do so.
Moreover, there is an absence of identification for their group. The section for sexual identity in any legal format has just two gender groups, male and female. Since these people belong to neither, does it mean they do not exist legally? It is really horrific when you realize that the entire section faces an identity crisis for their country does not provide them with a proper identity and they are either left without a legal identity card or are forced to fit themselves into either of the two possible categories as specified by the law.
A milestone change was done recently when the government of Bangladesh added a new category, “hijra” to their list of accepted genders. “Hijras” in Bangladesh can now legally identify themselves the way they are and can now have the rights that any other male or female in the country has. The step does not ensure that the outlook of people towards “hijras” would change from henceforth but it is truly encouraging to see that the laws have been more accepting and tolerant towards them which will slowly help spreading awareness in people. They have set an example for other countries to learn from and follow. I’m personally looking forward to that day when I see others like Hema work in the same office or study in the same college I do.