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Treatment of Transgender People in India

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 3258 words Published: 26th Feb 2019

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Transgender people are people who have a gender identity that is different from the one which is assigned to them by birth. The cultures of India include transgenders as a third gender, referred to as Hijra in Hindi. Ancient Vedic texts referred to transgenders as napumsaka to denote the lack of reproductive ability, and believed them to have the power to confer blessings on people on auspicious occasions. Hijras were highly respected in the Mughal period where they were considered as guardians of the harem, but after the onset of British Raj, they were criminalized and denied civil rights to an extent that long after the Independence of India, local laws still reflect the prejudicial attitudes against them. They are still treated as social outcasts in modern India, and hence the most common livelihoods for a modern-day Hijra mainly includes begging and prostitution besides their ceremonial task of blessing auspicious events. After almost half a century after Independence, the government of India granted Hijras the basic civil rights of every citizen but not yet fully accommodated to vote. Welfare policies were also introduced by the state governments, and transgenders were finally declared as a socially and economically backward class entitled to reservation, and also prohibited discrimination against them. Ironically, homosexual intercourse is still a criminal offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The transgenders are being empowered steadily by the rise of various famous personalities like Kalki Subramanian, the first transgender woman to star in a motion picture; Padmini Prakash, India’s first transgender to anchor a daily national and Manabi Bandyopadhyay, the first transgender to become a college principal, amongst countless others who still struggle to rise from the social stigma society has weighed upon them.

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1. Background

Transgender, in definition, is a term used to define people who may act, feel, think or look different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Actually, transgender is an umbrella term, since it covers a wide variety of people including from anatomically bisexuals (intersex) to cross-dressers (heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, make-up and accessories that are associated with women in that culture).

In India, the word transgender has been loosely associated with the hijras – a term particularly used to describe people who are born physically male, but live as women, including dressing and socializing as female, and also go by the terms Aravani, Aruvani or Jagappa. According to the 2011 census, in which the third gender was recognized for the first time, the total population of the third gender was reported to be 4.88 lakhs, with Uttar Pradesh having almost 28.1% of them.

Fig 1. Statistics of the population of transgenders in various states

Often, transgenders and eunuchs are used interchangeably whereas the meaning of both the terms is very different. 

2. History

In Ancient India, the section of third sex loosely included infertile ladies, eunuchs, impotent men and bisexuals/intersex, which is affirmed by the recorded confirmation in the compositions of ancient India. The expression “napumsaka” has been instituted by the early Vedic literary works to denote the nonattendance of procreative capability, introduced by implying physical distinction from the masculine and feminine.

In the Mughal period, Hijras occupied some of the most acclaimed positions such as generals, administrators, political advisors and also had the additional responsibility of guarding the harems. They were considered trustworthy, quick-witted and fiercely loyal to their rulers, and hence had free access to all spaces and sections of population. Hijras were also the occupants of high positions in the Islamic religious institutes, and were responsible of guarding Mecca and Medina, the holy places of the Muslims.

In the start of the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent, Hijras were secured by some Indian provinces and were granted privileges in the form of land, nourishment and a small amount of cash from agricultural households in exact areas. Be that as it may, these benefits were finally eliminated through British legislation since the inheritance of the ancestral land was commanded to the blood relations whereas Hijras were physically unequipped for mating and creating posterity.          

The Hijra community was eventually criminalized and denied social equality by the British colonial administration in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 incorporated the Hijras who were involved in hijacking, castrating and mutilating children and dressed like females to dance in public places. They were subject to an abundant amount of scrutinization from the Europeans since records of early European explorers demonstrated that they were repelled by the sight of Hijras and couldn’t comprehend as to why they were given such a great amount of regard in the royal courts and other institutions.

The Criminal Tribes Act, however was revoked in 1952, a couple of years after India announced autonomy from the British, yet tragically, the legacy of the act proceeded and numerous local laws mirrored the biased states of mind against specific tribes, including against Hijras.

3. Religious background

3.1    Hinduism

Transgenders were periodically acknowledged in the ancient sacred texts in Sanskrit and the religious works of the rishis. The erotic sculptures on ancient Hindu temples at Khajuraho and Konarak, and the sacred texts in Sanskrit constitute irrefutable evidence that a whole range of sexual behaviour was not an alien concept for the ancient Hindus. The tradition of representing same-sex desire in literature and art continued in medieval Hinduism.

Lord Rama, in the epic Ramayana, was embarking for the forest after being expelled from Ayodhya for fourteen years, addresses to his devotees and asks all ‘men and ladies’ to retreat to the city. Among his devotees, the hijras alone did not feel bound by this course and choose to remain with him. Inspired with their faithfulness, Rama granted them the ability to confer blessings on individuals on propitious events like child birth and marriage, and furthermore at inaugural functions which, it was supposed to set the phase for the custom of badhai in which hijras sing, dance and bless.

Aravan, the progeny of Arjuna and Nagakanya in the epic Mahabharata, offered to renounce his life to Goddess Kali to guarantee the triumph of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war, on the sole condition that he was to spend the last night of his life in marriage. Since no lady was ready to wed the one for just one night, Krishna assumes the form of a beautiful lady called Mohini and married him. The Hijras of Tamil Nadu considered Aravan their begetter and call themselves Aravanis.

3.2    Islam

The Islamic society fundamentally took for granted that everyone was either male or female, and for occasionally children whose anomalies in sexual physiology made it impossible to determine whether the person was male or female, they were assigned to the sex whichever could explain their sexual physiology better. Jurists believed that the seminal fluid of the dominant sex resulted in the offspring having the dominant sex, and in case of a tie, the child would be a hermaphrodite (khuntha). But the khuntha was still monitored for any signs which would firmly tie it to one of the sexes until puberty was achieved. Finally, if puberty failed to assign khuntha mushkil into the sexes, Islamic jurists had the final call to declare the gender, which was irreversible and permanent.

3.3    Christianity

Christianity bundles together a variety of views on transgenderism and issues of gender identity, ranging from considering transgender acts as sinful to seeing it as morally acceptable, and these views are also different for each individual within a denomination. An individual is also not bound to support their church’s views on transgenderism as their own.

Although the Old Catholic Church accepts transgender members and the LGBT community in general, but it also considers sex-change procedures as superficial and external in the sense it does not change the personality and the essence of a person’s soul and hence does not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the Church.

The New Testament presents eunuchs as acceptable candidates for evangelism, absolution and also eligible to be the members of the clergy but they are not considered valid candidates to marry.

4.      Socio Economic Status

Hijras are treated as social outcasts in modern India despite the fact that they formed an ancient social group which has been recognized for roughly four thousand years and depicted in India’s epic literature and temple sculptures due to degradation of the status of the Hijras during the colonial period, when several laws criminalizing them were enforced. Little has changed since the post-independence era, since the most common livelihoods for a modern-day Hijra include begging, dancing and engaging in prostitution although they still are regarded as harbingers of good luck at auspicious events such as a marriage or the birth of a child.

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The major foundation of social structure among the Hijras is the relation between a guru and their chelas, which is modeled both on the Hindu joint family and on the relationship of spiritual leader and disciple in Hinduism. The guru is synonymous to both a teacher and an elder in a family, who is expected to take care of the chela’s material needs, whereas the chela is expected to show deference and obedience to the guru and offer the guru her earnings.

An effective measure of social control prevalent in the Hijra community over its members is mainly through the rigorous monopoly over the opportunities of work by the Hijra elders. Hijra members are required to pay compensation to the particular guru in whose territory she wants to earn her living in, and they have to forfeit this right to earn when they are thrown out of the particular territory. An outcast Hijra has virtually no source of income since she will neither be able to perform in any auspicious event or ritual, since all Hijra performances are mandated by a guru, nor be able to beg in another guru’s territory.

5.      Politics

Hijras have been perceived by the legislatures of both India (1994) and Pakistan (2009) as a new gender section, the third sex. Consequently, the government has conceding them the essential social equality of each native. They can now distinguish themselves as a eunuch on official government documents and passports, but contesting in elections is still an impediment for Hijras since candidates contesting for elections have to clearly identify themselves as either of the two genders accommodated by the redundant governmental laws. The Election Committee of India denied the candidature of three Hijras in the 2009 general elections on the basis of non-identification of the candidates into the binary genders.

The first transgender to be elected in public office is Shabnam Mausi Bano, an elected member of the Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly from 1998 to 2003.

6.      Transgender Rights

After the official recognition of transgenders as a “third sex”, welfare policies were introduced first in the states Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where transgender people could access free sex reassignment surgery, free housing, admission in government colleges with full scholarship and alternative sources of livelihood through formation of self-help groups.

On 15th April 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared transgender people as a socially and economically backward class entitled to reservations in Education and Job, and also directed union and state governments to frame welfare schemes for them,

On 24 April 2015, the Rajya Sabha passed the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 guaranteeing rights and entitlements, reservations in education and jobs (2% reservation in government jobs), legal aid, pensions, unemployment allowances and skill development for transgender people. It also contains provisions to prohibit discrimination in employment, prevent abuse, violence and exploitation of transgender people.

Sadly, Homosexual intercourse was made a criminal offense under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This made it an offence for a person to voluntarily have “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” The Ministry of Home Affairs also stated its opposition against the decriminalization of homosexual activity, stating that in India, homosexuality is seen as being immoral.

7. Famous Transgender Personalities

7.1    Kalki Subramanian

Kalki Subramaniam is a transgender rights activist, artist, actor, writer and entrepreneur from Tamil Nadu. In 2011, she starred in the Tamil film, Narthagi. She is the first transgender woman in India to do a lead role in a motion picture. In 2008, she founded the Sahodari Foundation, an organization that advocates for transgender people in India. She has postgraduate degrees in mass communication and in international relations. Subramaniam founded Sahaj International school in 2017, which is dedicated to serving transgender students ages 25 through 50 who have not been supported in mainstream schools. It is the first school specifically designated for transgender students in India and is located in Kochi, Kerala.

7.2    Padmini Prakash

Padmini Prakash is India’s first transgender to anchor a daily television news show, emerging as a prominent voice for the neglected community. She is an avid Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancer and acted in a television serial. She has also been awarded Miss Transgender of India. She has been a vocal activist for transgender rights, and has been protesting against the discrimination, harassment and stigma that the sexual minority faces in India.

7.3    Manabi Bandyopadhyay

Manabi Bandyopadhyay is the professor and first transgender person in India who has completed Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Bandyopadhyay was associate professor in Bengali at Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya and took charge as principal of Krishnagar Women’s College on 7 June 2015. She is India’s first openly transgender college principal, and began work as such in 2015 at the Krishnagar Women’s College in Nadia district. Manabi is a devotee of Sarada Devi and she was initiated in spiritual life by Swami Atmasthananda.

8. Conclusion

The report analyzes the history and the present situation of the transgenders in India. From being revered and respected in ancient times, they became social outcasts in modern times. In spite of the government implementing numerous welfare programs and declaring reservations in government jobs and services, a huge percentage of the Hijras are still trapped in slums on the margins of the cities, engaging in prostitution and begging, bereft of these benefits. A better implementation of the welfare schemes and strict criminal action against people who exploit, discriminate and alienate transgenders is sorely required for the social and economic upliftment of the Hijras.

9. Bibliography

  1. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender
  2. http://www.lawctopus.com/academike/case-studies-statistics-survey-hijras/
  3. http://www.census2011.co.in/transgender.php
  4. https://controversycourse.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/sanders-ungendered.pdf
  5. http://www.undp.org/content/dam/india/docs/hijras_transgender_in_india_hiv_human_rights_and_social_exclusion.pdf
  6. http://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/islam/islam/hijra
  7. http://www.trp.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ARSS-Vol.4-No.1-Jan-June-2015-pp.17-19.pdf
  8. http://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/175/what-does-hinduism-say-about-third-gendered-people
  9. https://thetech.com/2016/08/25/hijra-community
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijra_(South_Asia)


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