by MARTA SERRANO
by MARTA SERRANO
Hijras’ is about a family. A family bound together not by blood or marriage, but by their way of life and condition. An unspoken group living by their own rules: building their own secret society on the fringes of Indian reality. It was in 2002 on a trip to India that Serrano first encountered the Hijras. ‘I knew nothing about them. I only saw a group of people, elegantly dressed up in saris, making a hell of a noise, clapping loudly and grabbing everyone’s attention. They introduced themselves, the pose and I made
a few pictures, but just as they came, they left’. This encounter spurred the beginning of Serrano’s intimate and personal research into the Hijras. Into their society, their social roles and their own personal stories. ‘Since that moment, I could not stop asking questions to others and to myself about these fascinating individuals I had bumped into, living in the midst of the organized chaos of India’. Hijras are the direct heirs of the eunuchs, the castrated men who took care of the royal harems as well as being the main confidents to the kings. A role that gave them so much power that they were eventually pulled down into the margins of society, being considered as threat to the rulers themselves. Today, the Hijras no longer take part in the royal families. Instead, they live together as a group, in different neighborhoods, villages and cities. They are part of society but out of the mainstream; yet always present in the wide landscape of India’s myths and legends. They belong to themselves and nobody will interfere in their lives, methods or in the ways they have. They live and act beyond any rule. Bound together by a strong and virtually impenetrable hierarchical system. This book is a culmination of sieven years of work, both photography and texts, through which Serrano documents her research and explores her own relationship with the Hijras. Being associated with an atmosphere of superstition, belief, tradition and fear, it his very difficult to get to know much about them, further than public matters. They don’t allow strangers into their own environment, except the ones who have gained their trust. Serrano lived among them. Staying at their homes, sharing and experiencing their day to day life and also the many rituals and festivities. Her photographs, a mix of documentary and poetic observations not only gives us and insight into the Hijra’s identity and conduct, but also the personal stories of those she befriended. A story of the human beings beyond the social condition and a glimpse into one of the most complex societies in India.’
Y A D T S R I THE F
n ten minutes ride in the direction of the North I can begin to appreciate the outstanding centenary buildings. We are crossing the Gomti River and crowds of people are everywhere. Who would have said that this would be my daily route through my beloved Lucknow? We are sitting in a motorised rickshaw and a s soon as we stop and pay, I immediately have to follow him, who without saying a word, runs down a narrow path and starts a conversation with an old man selling tobacco in a street stall. He is asking about the Hijras.
As a matter of fact, it seems like Mr. Kazmi doesn’t know what to do with the situation. He is not familiar with the Hijras; neither about where they live nor who they really are. And he definitely believes that it is pretty strange for a foreigner to take interest in them. Although the tobacco seller is aware of Hijras living in the neighbourhood, he can’t give us any further details. However, a guy who hangs around and listens to our story, tell us that if we give him two minutes, he will go home, change his clothes and help us search for them. With him directing us, we walk along and stop at the entrance of a house in an open square. Gate and windows are closed. Nobody is home. Our guide looks at us and doesn’t let us worry for a second: ‘We’ll find them’ - he asserts. While entering another dark passage I see a charpai where someone rests. As we get closer, I realize she is a Hijra. We stop and after a chitchat, she raises one arm and points in an opposite direction where she says we will see a big house belonging to the Hijras.
I must say that sometimes I believe it is odd to see me travelling so far to meet them in India. On the other side of the planet, a huge language
barrier, an expelled society rejected by most of the population and very hard to get due to their well kept privacy. A community surrounded by innumerable prejudices, legends; truths and lies shrouded in a thick veil of mystery. What is the magnetism I feel towards them? Is it their strength or inner pride that tells the rest of the world ‘this is who I am and how I want to live?’ Is it the attitude they show despite social taboo and refusal? It was March 2002 when I was on my first trip to India visiting Bhopal, a city right in the heart of the country. It was a mere but magical coincidence, when I noticed them walking in the main bazaar. Back then, I did not think about their appearance neither I was aware of their condition. I knew nothing about them. I only saw a group of people, elegantly dressed up in saris, making a hell of a noise, clapping loudly and grabbing everyone’s attention. What made it awkward is that I didn’t reflect on whether they were men or women. I did see that they had no fear and they were people whom I could communicate directly with. They presented themselves, they posed and I made a couple of pictures, but just as they came, they left. Since that moment, I could not stop asking questions to others and to myself about these fascinating individuals I had bumped into, living in the midst of the organized chaos of India. That encounter was the start of an intimate and personal research into the Hijras, the eunuchs, the third gender of the Asian subcontinent. It was an amazing revelation to find that traditional eunuchs still existed. I was even more surprised when I came to know that they have a special role within society: performing at new births and weddings. They have the gift of giving out blessings as well as curses. In the past years I have been accumulating as much information and opinions as possible, which led me to the discovery of a multi-faceted society that survives in our days. And the more I begin to understand, the more complex it becomes.
[...] It takes us three more minutes to finally arrive in front of a pink three-storey house and I am unable to hide my excitement. We ring at the bell
and a smiling young Hijra opens the door. Mr.Kazmi introduces us and she let us go in. Her name is Guddam. She makes a sign and orders another Hijra to bring a couple of chairs. She suggests that I sit on the bed and asks what would we like to drink. ‘Chai tea? Soft drink?’ ‘A chai would do, thank you.’ -I
replied. I am staring at her, gently observing her movements, her cheerful and sparkling eyes. With some of her English and few of my Hindi sentences, we manage to converse with each other. She enquires about my family and my country and I feel like I want to get to know everything about her and her life from the very beginning. We don’t know it yet, but we are about to share a life experience. Mr. Kazmi tells her about my interest in her community and the whys of my staying in Lucknow. She listens carefully and agrees. ‘You can come anytime you want. You are welcome here. Tomorrow, one o’clock in the afternoon. Everyone will be back by then’. It is not the first time I’ve been to a house of Hijras. Actually, I have been several times in India, meeting up with them all over the country and being able to live with diverse groups during long periods. The difference with Guddam is that we would become real friends. As we would both confess later on, that we were fans of each other from the first second we met. From that day onwards, Guddam would open the door to her life, making me part of her family and treating me as a sister by welcoming me into her house, her friend’s and introducing me to her personal and public life. We will grow inseparable for the next six months. She will explain and show me the peculiar society she belongs to for as much as she can, and as much as she is allowed. Because of Guddam I will get to know the human being beyond the social conditions and glimpse in one of the most complex societies in India, extremely jealous of their own privacy and willing to take their history and secrets to their deathbed. With no favours asked in return.
hile talking girl stuff with Meenakshi on the roof terrace, Radha interrupts us. She looks at me with very naughty eyes and sits up close. She smiles and shows me a small bottle of whisky hidden under her shawl. Hijras are not supposed to drink alcohol, but some of them do it occasionally. She tells me we are going out. Guddam left after lunch, saying that she had to meet her husband and arrange a couple of things for tomorrow. ‘We see each other in the morning’.
Today, the top floor is transforming into a busy beauty parlour. A young girl from next doors comes in and after saying hello to everyone, she immediately
starts working on Usha’s eyebrow shape. In the meantime, Sushila plucks her own facial hair with a pair of tweezers. A shaver is considered far too masculine and nobody here would use a razor whatsoever. Next to her, Sunita takes special care of her hairdo, building up her characteristic toupee above the forehead. Hair is quite important here. Whether about weaving it or waxing it or showing it off, it is a constant topic among us. When I explained to them that I hadn’t had my hair combed for years, they all got a shock. It is an action that keeps them puzzled and they can keep on talking about it for hours. Guddam could not believe it either and every time she has a chance, she tells everyone. (Nevertheless, a couple of days ago, she came to me and requested me to touch her hair. She whispered in my ear that she hadn’t oiled or combed it for three days already). Now it is Natasha catching my attention as she displays her jewellery collection in front of me. She is crazy about earrings and shows me her new acquisitions, which she bought at the market around the corner. They are all made of plastic, yet she hopes that in the future, she will be able to buy real gold ones. She chooses a shiny red set mixed with little white stones that match her outfit perfectly. After that, she opens her beauty case and adds powder to her cheeks, silver eye shadow on her eyelids, and glossy lipstick on her young lips. She is just sixteen and arrived in the community few months ago. She is Guddam’s chela, her disciple. Always cheerful and playful, she is very much aware of her own beauty. She constantly flirts with herself in the mirror or practices new steps and movements for her dance. She looks happy being part of the group, but she knows there is a long way to go. Natasha is at the start of an intensive journey, a life learning process. As a young Hijra, you must show discipline, obedience and respect for your elders and be willing to acknowledge the codes and ways that your seniors teach you from the beginning until your acceptance into the community. For now, her opinion is not valued. She follows orders and absorbs everything that is related to the Hijra culture and society. It is an education that will remain for the rest of her life. She will never be permitted to disagree with the judgments of her guru Guddam, who would never allow it anyway. Suddenly I hear screams from downstairs. I run along the stairs and follow the shouts that take me into the kitchen. Meenakshi is helping Mundi to wax her chest; it looks quite painful. A blunt knife spreads the hot wax while Mundi complains with an excuse, but it is a must for her to wear the top with a prominent cleavage for tonight. Mundi, together with Natasha, are the youngest of the house. They share a friendly rivalry: both wanting to be notice, to show they are adjusting according to the rules, to prove that they are real Hijras. But as far as I know they are not yet castrated, although last Thursday, I heard Guddam mentioning that Natasha was meant to go with Babu Lal to Bombay. They were planning to meet up with gurus and arrange a date for her operation. Actually, I haven’t seen Mundi for days and in fact, it is since twenty minutes ago that she has arrived from her parents’ house in Delhi. She is sixteen as well but left her family a long time ago to join the Hijras. When she entered the room, she was wearing jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, a cap over her head and a sport bag hanging from her shoulder.
No female attire at all… I can see that she is relieved to be back home, enjoying her girly mannerisms, fake bun included since she is still letting her hair grow. Nobody would have seen that she was indeed a Hijra, more of a schoolboy than a teenager girl, yet she can’t show herself as a girl in front of her family and relatives. It would be an embarrassment and bring shame to the family. In general, nobody accepts the Hijras. Whether it is a deficiency, an underdeveloped sexual organ, their refusal to be like real boys, their attraction to female roles or their different spirit, they are not like the rest since a very early age. Therefore, it will be noticed at a certain point. Every case is different, but a big majority suffer from ridicule, public humiliation or denial. Often being laughed at, the butts of the jokes, an object of mockery; many have been abused by family members or people within their surroundings. Carrying this kind of social pressure, they run away and try to find a path to live accordingly with their own feelings and personality. Eventually they will find the Hijras or Hijras will find them and they would unite with this special community. Belonging to the group reinforces the sense of security. There are numerous ways how a Hijra joins a Hijra family. Most of who I met throughout the years confirm that it is their personal choice. (Or almost always). Once in a while I hear about rumours of kidnaps, forced castration and unwanted recruitment onto the Hijras’ commune. The afternoon passes by in relaxed mood. In fact, everyone has a lot of free time after the morning work. We enjoy teasing each other, imitating faces, mimicking other’s ways… While talking they love to add rude words in every sentence they speak and I already have a long list added to my personal Hindi dictionary. Everyday I learn a new one. Like little girls they ask me to repeat the swearwords again and again and burst into laughter right after every ‘gandu’ or ‘maiat pare’ I pronounce. As an adding, sex is the favourite topic: introducing sexual anecdotes whenever possible, they like to combined them with touching, showing and checking sizes of breasts or butts. Surrounding each scene by dance movements… Forever dance. There is no day without dancing or practising new rhythms. It is indeed, the daily bread for their performances. Dancing and clapping as their trade mark. Natasha gives the last touches to her look and everybody is getting ready at last. Meenakshi is wearing a beautiful self-designed sari from Hyderabad while Fahima has decided to wear a golden colour gown with plenty of glitter and ten centimetre high heel. She looks spectacular. I have never seen her dressing up so flamboyantly before. On the contrary, Radha appears as the one who doesn’t bother about clothing or being pretty. She usually wears a plain colour salwar kameez with no accessories. No jewellery, no special hairstyle… ‘Less hassle, less hassle’, she says. It is remarkable to see that Hijras are very traditional in their ways, choosing for the classical Indian clothes and looking at Bollywood stars as their ideal of beauty. It’s 4 pm and we leave home, apart from Usha and Sushila who remained to prepare dinner for everyone. They are two Hijras visiting from Nepal and have become the temporary cooks. Besides that, Guru Babu Lal, the eldest Guru of the community, would never be left alone. At least one person must stay in the house to take care of her. Today we walk out from the back of the building towards the railway, jumping between the rails as a start of our late afternoon adventure. As a matter of fact, there are no barriers protecting people from trains passing through villages, towns or cities and it is common to see public walking over the tracks. We are six, making a lot of noise and talking with the passers-by. Going out together is such a show. It is impossible to go unnoticed. Everybody looks at us, which is funny as no one can make out about who I am. A question mark hangs in the air. Is she a North Indian girl? Is she a foreigner? Is she a Hijra?
Is she a Hijra from abroad? I remember the first time I went out with Guddam and her chelas to the spectacular Bara Imambara in Lucknow. It was a sunny and fresh Sunday in late October, and Guddam decided to show me the beautiful spots of her town. We took two cycle rickshaws and went straight to one of the most ancient’s areas of the city of the Nawabs, as the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh is known. In the weekends, the location is filled up with families and romantic couples trying to remain invisible amongst the crowd since those are almost the only moments they can spend by themselves. And we were there as well. None of my friends seemed to be concerned about the ticket seller at the entrance and Guddam just took my hand to go through with the rest. Everyone had noticed we had not paid; yet a hundred meters later, the person in charge of the entrance office yelled something to us. Guddam stopped, turned back and said: ‘Is there anything you want?’ The man came up close and requested the payment of one ticket, my ticket. He had noticed I was a stranger and as so, I had to pay the fee for foreigners, which is tenfold the price Indians have to pay. Guddam looked at him and replied with no hesitation: ‘She is coming with us and she is not paying. She is my chela from America. Marta, tell him so’. Guddam looked at me and I didn’t have any alternative but to confirm my introduction. We all laughed and without a second to waste, we went into the grandiose entrance surrounded by gardens. From that moment I became the American chela in our group. I realize that when I go with them, there is an extraordinary atmosphere around us. Everywhere we go and everyone we meet. Being and going out together is life at a different level. How to act and how to respond it lies in another layer and they put their effort to show me how to be like them. If we think the price of the rickshaw is too much, we say so and pay what we judge is fair for the ride. No further discussions. If we want to pass through a blocked street, we ignore the restriction and command the policeman to open the barriers. And he would do it exclusively for us. If we hear a comment from someone and we feel like adding to it, we go and tell; without any considerations. There are no rules, just ours. We do, say and behave as we please. I am totally amazed by the situations we encounter; the continuous confrontations combined with that good dose of humour. If there is something I admire about the Hijras is that unique characteristic of being endlessly proud of themselves. Whether that is for real or not, they know how to confirm that attitude. Likewise, not being ashamed or embarrassed by anything or anybody. I love the way they stand and not being overtaken by circumstances. Showing who they really are, they act beyond limits. If they have to be feminine they use their female tricks. If they have to be rude and nasty, they are the worst. If they have to perform, they do it to the limit. Even in politics, where they do it the proper way (one Hijra even got a seat in the Assembly in the state of Madhya Pradesh. And Soraya, another Hijra friend from Bhopal, assured me she wanted to be in politics to see the whole Parliament in sari). My friends are direct and they have a strong mind. They are confident and always having an answer back. Charging and fuelling prejudice. Who would no having made the choices that they have to make? The inspire superstition and fear upon the so call normal people. The grief and frustration they go through: leaving their loved ones as children, poorly educated, restricted from work and common privilege (they received their voting rights in 1994 only). [...] Sunita’s loud voice interrupts my thoughts and I can see that two new young men had joined us at the back. One is teasing Radha, but she doesn’t seem agitated but before anybody can realize it she is the one who is taking him in. She runs towards him, embracing him to his own surprise, trying to kiss him. He looks shy and finally manages to get out of the situation. When Radha leaves him alone and returns, she grabs my arm and asks me: ‘Do you like him? He is my boyfriend’.
We turn left and walk into a lovely green park where families with children, grandparents, neighbours and other relatives are enjoying the evening. The space is packed and as soon as we enter, people place their eyes on us. Once again. Fahima, Sunita, Meenakshi, Natasha, Radha and myself are fully conscious of what is happening around us and we enjoy playing with the circumstances. And again, for some reason or the other, they attract the gazes of the young and old, male and female. As we are strolling, we gather boys around us but in spite of feeling disturbed, we make the most of it and Meenakshi even gets one guy to pay for all our chai. Straight after that, Radha decides to takes us down to the river and as we walk up a small hill, I turn around and I cannot believe what is behind us: more than fifty guys are following us in an attempt to have our attention. Meanwhile, someone is waving from the shore. It’s Raju, Radha’s boyfriend. He and his friend are waiting for us with a rowing boat. What else could we ask? We are so excited that we run towards them and while we get ready to board, Raju organizes the music player and fixes the cables to the battery to start it up. Got it! Ready to go! Loud Bollywood music is coming through the speakers and we can hardly hear ourselves speak. Crazy sailing has started. Everybody is amused. The boys had bought flasks of rum and they pass them around. Me, together with Natasha and Meenakshi are the only ones who refuse the offer. The others accept. Shifting seats, Radha jumps onto her boyfriend’s back kissing him again… He doesn’t fancy it, but more likely he doesn’t want to do it in public. Natasha and I stand up, moving our bodies into the tones when Meenakshi begs us to stop the boat rolling. She is dead scared of the water. She doesn’t know how to swim and she is yelling non-stop. The only option is to dance while sitting on our place. There is a noisy madness on board when two sailing dinghies approach from the side and request to attach their boat to ours. No way. Sunita, Radha and Fahima shout them at once to go away. ‘We don’t want you here’, -Natasha concludes. After two hours of joy on the river we prepare to get out. The sun went down and we need to wrap up warm. Lucknow’s winter can have very chilly nights and I definitely feel we are at the doors of the Himalaya. While going back to Hasanganj, I stop a rickshaw to head towards my hotel, but they won’t let me go unless we have dinner at home. ‘Food will be ready when we get there’. And it is indeed. Usha and Sushila are happy to see us and they immediately start filling our plates. Tonight’s menu is green vegetables with tomato and white rice. A meat dish is prepared on the side as well. Hmmm… exactly what we needed. They have cooked an excellent banquet for all. Once finished, Natasha brings a bottle of filter water for me, as water is served after finishing food. Guddam had given strict orders that I would only drink packed water since running water can be dangerous for my western body system. So they keep constant provisions of water for me. Sweet… Shortly after, family members decide that I won’t go anywhere else but to bed, the one they are setting up for me right here. It is already dark and well past ten. Fahima is concerned. ‘This is no hour for a girl to go out on the streets’, she confirms. I tell her that it won’t be a problem, yet the decision has been taken already. TV goes on and we watch an old movie. We are laying over the thin mattresses, which serve both as beds and as resting area in the living room. Little by little everyone says good night. Radha, Natasha, Sunita and Mundi go downstairs, where four of them will sleep on the rush mats displayed next to Guru Babu Lal’s bed, the only bed of the space. We are also four and we must divide ourselves between two other mats. Usha and Sushila go upstairs,
where they will share the room on the third floor. It is cold. With three storeys, no doors except for the entrance and windows without glass the chilly cold air enters the rooms easily. We have one blanket each and it is definitely not enough, at least not for me. I can’t believe that it is so icy. I wish we would be in the warm south… I am all dressed up with my salwar kameez, a pullover and a shawl around my body plus the blanket, yet nothing seems to stop me from freezing. I am between the wall and Fahima and on top of that, I cannot fall asleep without thinking of the mice. Several times I have seen one having a great time. So it doesn’t take me that much effort to imagine it running over our beds. Furthermore, lights haven’t been turned off and it seems they are going to stay on. Another peculiarity of the house: keeping the lights on till dawn. Yes, it is the first night that we sleep under the same roof and it won’t be the last one, so I better get used to it. Yes, I am freezing and I am having nightmares about the mouse that will jump on me. Yes, the bright light doesn’t help either. But yes, I am totally happy here and wouldn’t change it for anything else although I cannot wait to see the sunlight coming through the window again…
i was part of a dream;
part of an ancient chapter.
manners and poses remained more of a harem than of a current household where reality pops up as crude and real as our own soul.
* between 50000 and 1 million eunuchs live in the whole of the Indian subcontinent
In a western world nothing like the Hijras could ever exist. Transgender, transsexual or travesty follow an individual desire for a sex change without the aim of joining or living in a similar community. They do not have a public role in society and definitely donâ€™t get castrated.
* UNSAFE SEX
* Undergoing castration bring them closer to their gods.
* a tight community
* 30% die due to castration
[...] keeping their tradition alive
Always minding their own business
Y T E I C O S SECRET
veryone at Guddam’s place is talking about Jaipur, but nobody tells me anything. I suspect they basically don’t want to inform me. Finally, Meenakshi opens up. A gathering of Hijras will be held in the capital of Rajhastan. There are no fixed dates yet, but the news is that it will start around the end of March and will last for two weeks. Nevertheless, Meenakshi asks and implores that I don’t tell anyone that she had told me about it.
These kind of secrets are not new to me. Despite showing me their trust day by day, there will be things that will remain behind closed doors. They are
used to hide their knowledge, to go around in conversations without shedding any light on the real truth, or invent and create situations that had or will never take place in order to provoke confusion. This is their way to protect each other, to keep up a tight internal net that keeps everything interrelated and connected without any outsider being part of it. Nevertheless, I take a train to Jaipur, the city of pink, the residence of Royal courts, an extraordinary history, a paradise of gems and precious stones. And with one foot in land, I get into a rickshaw to head towards the area they are supposed to held the gathering, as a local friend’s family had informed a couple of days ago. ‘This must be it’, -I tell to myself. A big entrance to another street, adorned with colourful shinny fabrics on the left side of the road. As I enter through the gate, Hijras are all over the place. They look like they are having a nice and relaxed time, sitting on every side. I asked them about their program and they answered me that the program is over: ‘Yesterday was the last day’. What? I didn’t know whether to believe them or not. There were still a lot of them there. ‘How is that possible? I heard the festival was meant to start yesterday’ – I said. ‘We have been here for already ten days’. What is all this about? Meenakshi was saying the festival was going to begin yesterday! Was she lying at me? They might be joking… but I should also know by now that they are not: always hiding and confusing the facts. Of course, out of protection... I know they aren’t interested in strangers. They don’t look for publicity but they wonder why people want to know about them since in India nobody wishes to be involved in their lives. Additionally, making it hard for outsiders to penetrate in their communities keeps people out. I’ve even heard a story of a friend’s relative, being thrown out from Hijras’ compounds for getting to know too much about their lives and secrets. Suddenly, I hear my name. It is a guru from Lucknow I met at Guddam’s house and before I know. Following her, another few Hijras from Udaipur surround me in a circle. They are asking the usual questions while checking my costumes, my hair and my white skin. ‘Where are you from? Where are you staying? Do you have brothers or sisters? Is it your first time in India?’. They introduce themselves: ‘I am Karina, Neha’s guru-bhai; this is Parvin, my aunty; she is my guru’s sister; she is Feroz, my guru’s guru’. My mother, my guru, my sister, my sister in law, my aunt’s sister, my guru’s sister’s sister, my guru’s mother… The Hijra community is a close-knit society based on the family bonds that are created and the family titles they give to each other. These get together are the ideal place to create family connections. Particularly, those in their teens and twenties have a chance to find family ties. Every one has a guru, a teacher or spiritual guide, and it would be the guru, an older, more experienced Hijra who would take responsibility for the welfare of her chela. In response to that offer, the chela would promise loyalty and respect forever. In the Hijra community there are thousands of gurus, yet not all the Hijras will become guru. That title is something that has to be given, not acquired. That is why the hierarchical society is ever present. A Hijra’s life is governed by regulations laid down by her immediate superiors. A chela is not free in her movements and she will have to tell her guru about her plans and possible movements. More than once I’ve seen
gurus denying their chelas’ wishes. […] Guddam enters the room. She is shouting and cursing everything and everybody, acting madly. Her voice gets louder than I could have never imagined and we are all paralyzed. She is calling Natasha and Mundi to stand in front of her. When the two of them arrive, Guddam takes them one by one and begins to hit them with all her strength; beating them badly as she wouldn’t see the end of it. Her hands fly while shaking, slapping and kicking them.We remain silent. I’m staring at Guddam and witnessing a sight I could have never expect. I do not know if I should stay or go, but with my heart beating, I decided to wait awhile until things calm down. Luckily, the hitting does stop. Natasha and Mundi are crying. Guddam is yelling at them to go away and not come back. ‘If this is the way you two want to behave, I won’t accept it; there is the door for you two to leave’. Guddam is still screaming and cursing them. Natasha is standing at the door. Mundi cries on the floor and she tries to approach Guddam when she gets her out of her way with not a tiny bit of mercy. Their Guru is rejecting them and they won’t have any choice than obey her will. So they must go. And they do it despite it being later than 10 o’clock at night. Usually, nobody goes out of this house after nine pm. It is one of the rules. After the house curfew, the door will be closed and nobody will go out or enter without permission. Guru Babu Lal is in charge of the house keys and Tamanna is sent upstairs to pick them up. She comes back at the same time she goes with Mundi and Natasha to the main door, where they are thrown out and the door is locked behind them. I am shocked and to my surprise, this has just started and the quarrel goes on. Regardless of Guddam not taking any notice of me, I am glad to receive warm gazes from the rest of the group. We are in a sort of a circle, yet the discussion is now between Feezah and Guddam who are sitting in front of each other. Around them, total silence. While they talk, they point into the eyes of the person next to each of them instead of looking at the one they are arguing with. When Feezah talks, instead of looking straight ahead to Guddam, she gives her comment to Fahima, Meenakshi or me. When Guddam speaks, she looks at Santi, Tamanna or Radha. It is like being in a tennis match with eight players hitting balls randomly to each other. The argument doesn’t conclude and in the meantime, Feezah lets her hair down and makes a ponytail after taking her choli off (a short fitted top with short sleeves that Indian women wear under a sari), while defending her position. Even now, while arguing, she looks like a mystical goddess, her naked tanned torso adorned with the glittered jewellery, which hangs from her neck. As I am playing with that thought, I hear my name loud and clear through the arguing and Guddam, without looking at me, curses me without compassion. At this point of my relationship with them, I have learnt the rude words they use and I can pick them out in a conversation. Right now, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I sit silently and I don’t dare to move. Unexpectedly, the tone of the conversation becomes more serene and Guddam leaves the room. Feezah is crying and it doesn’t leave an impression that this is going to be the best end for a Christmas day for any of us, but it’s definitely a night to remember. We stay where we are sitting and Fahima begs me to sleep there. Once again, she warns me about the streets not being safe at these hours of the night. I don’t think I should stay. Not that I feel that something bad is going to happen to me in the house, but there are things that they should be fix without me being around. I feel out of place so I give a kiss to everyone and say goodnight. Guddam not included.
Friends of their friends, very few people have a real notion of who the Hijras are.
PROBABLY, IT iS THE AMBIGUITY OF BEING A THIRD GENDER WHAT CREATES THAT DIFFERENT DIMENSION.
The hijra term is rescued from the past: descendents from the tradition of the ancient eunuchs, they were sold as slaves, made confidents of the grandiose maharajas of imperial India and caretakers of the royal harems.
Previously honored with incredible power and later denigrated to the lower echelons of society. And still survive.
Iâ€™ve just heard the love of a Hijra is one of the most faithful loves anybody can be accounted with. It is a love for eternity.
lack hair, dark skin and almond-shaped eyes, so intense that it pierces through body and soul. Andalusia, as I like to call her, is a charming Hijra I met long ago in Bhopal and who one day invited me into her own rented room. ‘You have to promise me that these words won’t be heard by the other Hijras. I cannot speak about certain things in front of some of
them. They wouldn’t accept the fact of telling you my story…
‘I ran away from home when I was barely fourteen. My friends kept on saying I was not the same as them. I was aware of it. It didn’t make me feel comfortable with my surroundings or myself, but I did not know what to do with it either. Months later, I decided to leave, although
my family didn’t throw me out. I used to live in a very tiny village in another state, yet I managed to end up here in this city. When I arrived, I was alone and I didn’t have a place to stay, so my only means of survival was to beg my way around. Soon after, the Hijras approached me and we became friends. Day after day I started to get to know them better and I must say I found them understanding and accepting. From then on I decided to join and live among them. I learnt about their ways, the singing and dancing. I enjoyed their company from day one, and I was taken to the head guru to be checked. It was agreed that an operation would be performed. I would be castrated. I went through a lot of pain and when I got better, I started to miss my family and wanted to go back. I longed for my mother. At that time, I didn’t realize it was too late. Once you are in, you are in. I tried to explain myself to the Hijras but the only answer I got was to be locked up in a guarded room for three months. I wanted to escape and they wouldn’t let me go. At that moment, I understood I was destined to stay within the community. In any case, where would I go? What would my family say about me? I know my mother would have accepted me, but not neighbours or friends. It would have been a nightmare, so I had to reject the idea of visiting them. Nonetheless, three years later, I went back to my place of birth and told my relatives. Everything went better than I expected, but things had changed. It made no sense to be back. This is my home now’.
G N I D D E W DALJIT’S
am about to enter Hasanganj when I see a wave of colours and I take notice of the husky voices ahead of me. Guddam, Tamanna, Usha, Radha, Sushila… they come back from their daily work and seem pretty content. I assume they had a prosperous day. Yesterday, Radha pointed out the borders of their territory while we were driving outside the city. The area was far bigger than I expected since it included three large districts.
Everyday, they wake up with the sun, get dressed and together with the musicians, they go around the market and houses to do their blessings and performances. Although they don’t like talking much about their work, I know this is a very good season for them. It is beginning of December and many had chosen to marry around these dates as they are considered to be the most auspicious days of the year. I am sure they have got several newly married couples within their turf. Hijras divide themselves in neighbourhoods and they will always work within their boundaries. No Hijra group would attempt to extend their activities into other’s group area. If they would do so, they would get into trouble and only the Hijras would be able to solve it. They have their own rules and no one enters into their personal matters. Even the police stay out of the scene for most of the time. It was back in 2003 when reading an Indian newspaper, I pointed out a headline mentioning that a Hijra gang in Delhi had killed a very popular Hijra from another district because of earnings and land disputes. The incident uncovered the wealthy empire the murdered Hijra had been building up through the years (private jet, real state…). My friend Daljit from Delhi got married last week. We already had two days of celebrations when I could feel there was something bubbling behind the scenes. It was happening at his wife’s to-be parents’ house, where the Hijras made their appearance. It took place while she was busy decorating the villa. A group of seven Hijras showed up at the family residence and her father opened the door to them. They wanted to see the bride to perform and give her blessings. Until then everything was fine. Having called them or not, Indian people are conscious that Hijras will show up. They will demand the right to do their act whenever weddings take place or a male child is born; information supplied by their well arranged network: neighbours, friends and paid informants. On the occasion of newborn babies they will check the genitals of the male baby. If a child is born inter-sexed, the Hijras could claim him as one of their kind, to save him a probable cruel destiny. It is through a ritual of emasculation that Hijras receive special powers from their Mother Goddess, Bahuchara Mata. The Hindu divinity is seated on a rooster, which symbolizes innocence. She is one of the most important goddesses in the state of Gujarat, on the west side of the country. It is her divine influence that transforms their impotence into the power of generativity, completing the transformation from impotent male to potent Hijra. Powers that they will use to their limit to ultimately achieve what they are after. Most of the Hijras I met, claim to be Muslim, although they are also followers of the mentioned Bahuchara, a Hindu deity. It is hard to make a proper distinction within the Hijra community where Islam ends and Hinduism begins and vice versa. I have seen them devoted to different faith and they seem pretty open to all. In Babu Lal’s house everyone is Muslim, yet there are images from both Mecca and Bahuchara Mata hanging on the walls. One of the many stories associated with Bahuchara Mata is the one of her as a young girl travelling with a group of people. While passing through a forest they were attacked by thieves and she, out of fear that they would insult her modesty, cut off her breast and offered it to the bandits instead of her body. A
different legend explains how a man who attempted to molest her, was cursed with impotence. He would only be forgiven after giving up his masculinity, dress up as a woman and worship the goddess. Therefore Bahuchara has a special connection with Hijras since they are impotent men who undergo emasculation. As Guddam told me, it was through this practice that she gave up her masculinity and welcomed her new life. They name it ‘Nirvan’. Her eyes shone beautifully when she described me how she became a real Hijra. She was fifteen when she went through the operation and became fulfilled and satisfied with herself. ‘I was reborn, Marta. From that moment on, only female blood went into my body’ – she described it as it was the most natural thing that had happened to her short life. No anaesthesia, no medicines, no doctors. Her guru, Babu Lal, removed everything. There was a sharp cut taking testicles and the penis in one incision. There was blood, but no stitches since male part and its impurities should plainly disappear. Only a little hole remains, from where she can pee. The wound was healed continuously, but it took her forty days to be fully recovered. I think she must have gone through unbearable pain although it doesn’t look relevant to her at all. She felt completed and more confident by knowing that she is who she wanted to be and had found a place where she is accepted totally. From that moment on her hair on chest, arms and legs would grow weaker and her voice would become softer. Nowadays, she injects hormones in her breasts, once every two weeks for three months. She wants to have large bust although after each dosage she suffers from it. Pain, itchiness, headaches …she doesn’t mind. It is all for the good. She looks at me and confirms, ‘When you come back next time, you will see Guddam with full-size tits’. Only after the emasculation and a subsequent ritual the person is reborn as a Hijra who can act with the powers of the Mata and be able to bless and curse in her name. They renounce any sexual longing and within Hindu belief this is related to the powers of the ascetic, the one who gives up materialistic, family and sexual life in order to mature into a holy person. Emasculation is in fact, the ultimate act, confirming their uniqueness, the final proof of being a real Hijra. Nonetheless, while preparing dinner for her husband Assim and two of us, she confessed to me: ‘You see, Marta, I am behaving as a woman. I am cleaning and organizing the house, I do the groceries and all housewife tasks; I prepare the food and have everything arranged for when he comes from his work. I do exactly as a woman would do; yet I am not a woman. I still have a flat chest, hair still grows on my face and I can definitely not have children. On the other hand, I am definitely not a man’. And she shows me the emptiness between her legs. ‘I am neither man nor woman and it will be like it in this life. I am a third gender. God made me like this and I have to accept it’. As a child, Guddam didn’t behave as a boy is supposed to be. He didn’t feel like a boy, nor was he keen on boyish games. He liked to dress as a girl and play in front of the mirror. His family didn’t know then, but her mother caught him once while he was trying his sister’s clothes. It was a big shock in the family house. Guddam didn’t want to hide himself and took the initiative to join the Hijras. Uncommonly, she is still in touch with her mother, who lives few blocks away and visits her youngest child regularly. The sexual ambiguity of the Hijras as impotent men is a reality that people cannot clearly understand and it is the main cause of the apprehension they get within the population. Likewise, the ability to bless and curse makes them powerful and feared by all. Despite this, there is another part that seeks their blessings, children that love their company, women who ask for their advice and neighbours that call them to solve common disputes. Paradoxically, Hijras receive greater respect due to the role as ritual performers and this traditional function is what defines their identity. They are both
reviled and disliked by Indian society, but they are also given a greater freedom than any person can experience: becoming a Hijra means to benefit from a fascinating position in India, playing a unique role and managing to live in better conditions than most people. And ironically, emasculated or impotent men offer blessings of fertility while they themselves are not even able to reproduce. In India, everyone is aware of the existence of the Hijras, yet hardly anybody knows or does not want to know about their personal matters or struggles. There is a collective misunderstanding worldwide and a social lack of knowledge, based on the ignorance of a matter. It is a fact that when you ignore a matter you tend to deny it. However times are changing rapidly. Today, especially in bigger metropolis, Hijras have found a different way of living. Instead of performing the traditional roles, they work more as extortionists, involved in prostitution, begging at junctions, using their social handicap for profit. I would dare to say that certain groups act as a sort of mafia. This is not open criticism and I believe the Hijras are aware of it too. Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore… Although it would not be wise to avoid these new realities, I must say that I am devoted to understand traditions and the endurance of culture and this is why it makes more sense to me to follow those who try to keep their historical background alive. That is why Daljit’s wife and her family were complaining, as many other people do for the same reasons. In the past, Hijras accepted the gifts and money given to them without complaints; these days it isn’t enough, and they keep on claiming for more. When they first came to Daljit’s in-laws, they danced, sang and conferred blessings of fertility to the bride and the family gave them money in return. Because they are a wealthy family, they asked for extra cash. Although the family thought it was an exaggerated sum of money, her father eventually gave an additional bunch of notes to get them out of the way, but it was still insufficient and they came back three more times demanding more money. These actions are happening as a result of fewer resources, connected to the changes of society and the new necessities. Parallel to this shift are the new generations, who don’t want to hear about castration and who would rather get operated instead of suffering. This truth I have encountered few times lately but even so, castration will always be the summit to be a real Hijra. The life of a Hijra is in either way not easy. While a lot of them declare to be happy, others find it harsh and they don’t wish for being reincarnated as a Hijra in their next lives. They dream to have a normal life, to get married, create a family and be able to have a job of their choice. Even when they have a more independent life, they usually keep contact with the Hijra communities. On the other hand, what really shocked me is to see that fake Hijras spring up everywhere. They dress up and dance as if they were the real thing. The latter (real thing) complain about the impostors, who are not allowed to perform on their behalf. If they find out, they would definitely get into a fight to make things clear. It is a must that a Hijra who offers blessings must be castrated. Last year I had heard about them and it was then when I had the opportunity to witness them directly. Muslim friends of mine in Bhopal, knowing my interest on Hijras, asked me if I wanted to have a private performance. Of course I did! They had invited them for a daughter’s birthday a few weeks before and they thought it would be appealing to me. I accepted the offer and presented myself that same Monday at their home. When I arrived there, I saw three people sitting on a bed. One had the drums with him and two were finishing their make up, yet I felt there was something weird about the whole scene. The two dressed up men giving the last retouches to their faces, garments and non-existing male fat pushed up breasts were indeed two
real men. When Tarek, the father of my friend looked at me to check if I was ok, I just nodded with my head. A minute later, I got a complete session as professionals’ dancers. Drums were beating hysterically and their voices were rising to the highest tones. I must say it was an astonishing show. After an hour of dancing they collapsed exhausted on the floor. In a flash, Tarek was pushing me to ask them to be naked. He and the family guys were getting excited but I definitely didn’t see the point. I could have seen them exposed in front of me, so what? Once they had their jeans and shirts on, I gave them the money we previously agreed on and they left the room. Actually, it is funny to see this openness related to the naked body when Hijras are around, or even like in this case –fake- Hijras. All of a sudden, that embarrassment of an exposed body disappears. In India it is very rare to see any open uncovering: women are pretty much sheltered with fabric around their entire bodies and there is a constant feeling of being watched if you show more than what it is socially accepted. I even have to take special care of my clothingas well, wearing my Indian suits to avoid any misunderstanding by showing more arm or leg. But the contradiction is also out there if you look at the Bollywood heroines; whether it is on films, TV, magazines or billboards, they are shown with mini dresses in sexy poses, explicitly erotic by anyone’s standards. Afterwards, when I asked Tarek about the guys that had performed, he didn’t understand my question. But when I repeated it and told him they were not real Hijras, he got angry with me. He claimed they were and I didn’t believe how he could be saying that. They themselves told me they only dressed as women for this kind of happenings. They both lived independently from the Hijra community and they never mixed with them. They were plainly imitators! No wonder some people ask Hijras to lift up their skirt and check if they are real Hijras or not. I believe there is not a general interest for questioning the fact of real and fake Hijras. Am I going crazy? Certainly, there is a moral and physical difference. Yes, maybe it is accurate to say that my interest has been reduced to the ‘real’ Hijra existence and although I know there is not an absolute truth about them, but many truths, it is my intention to get few things clear, at least for myself. If there was something that definitely caught my attention, it was to discover that a group like the Hijras could still survive in the social conditions of modern times; keeping track of their beliefs based on the ways and teachings of the elders. When we westerners want to understand the distinction between Hijras and transsexuals, travesties or transgender, I might refer to their contradictory holy position in Indian society. In a western world nothing like this could ever exist. Transgender, transsexual or travesty follow an individual desire for a sex change without the aim of joining or living in a similar community. They do not have a public role in society and definitely don’t get castrated. Hijras are born with a sexual organ disease or as impotent men. Out of personal and therefore social circumstances they decide to join a group that can recognize their situation and hence they undergo emasculation and as a result they become exceptional individuals in an exceptional context. A Hijra would no longer belong to any cast or genre and cannot be compared with anybody else. They belong to themselves and they welcome a wide range of personalities, gender identities, sexual needs and cross-gender behaviours, which in term, are related to that part of Indian mythology where a huge variety of gender roles and transformations show up repeatedly. Hijras are cited in many Hindu scriptures. Tales of emasculated man acquiring divine status have been continuously mentioned: from the Hindu texts like the Vedas in the second millennium BC, the Mahabharata epic one hundred years later, the Ramayana or on Sanskrit texts, describing how impotency is transformed into sainthood through the practice of asceticism, giving numerous accounts of sex change and gender confusion.
Witty enough, Hijras get extremely curious about sex change in the west. Guddam had asked me in several occasions about how is it in other countries. When I told her about two transsexuals I know that work in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, next to where I live, she looked at me in amazement while I described to her that one of them has full-size breasts while still keeping a big penis. ‘How can do they do these kinds of things to themselves?’ -she enquired. ‘They are witches’, - a young boy told me once in a train after asking him what he thought of the Hijras. ‘They are this, they are that’. The stories are always pretty hard to believe. Everyone has something to confirm, to deny. Even Hijras tell contradictory stories. It’s a never-ending mystery. I do believe that the third gender term tells more about how Indian society works rather than about third gender itself. And how does a Hijra be a Hijra? How does a ‘you’ be a ‘yourself’?
They performed a complete session as professional dancers. Drums were beating hysterically and their voices were rising to the highest tones.
uddam and I are sitting in the back of one of the thousands of cycle rickshaws in town. We are talking about our day while buying the ingredients for the dinner from the rickshaw. We don’t even need to leave our seats. It’s so practical but also sophisticated way to shop. I’ve never done it before and I already love it. Cauliflower, peas and delicious okra together with paneer, the Indian cottage cheese, are included in the shopping
list. Plain rice will be on the plate and unquestionably all veggies will be covered in heaps of masala. Since I told Guddam that I don’t eat meat, she makes sure that I have vegetarian food everyday. It is incredible to see how much she cares about me: as family. She won’t even let me pay for anything. Since the beginning, I haven’t been able to persuade her to do otherwise. We drive on towards her house when suddenly Guddam turns her head and says something to someone on the street. I look behind me and I see a young man shouting from his stall selling onions and potatoes. Guddam answers back but we carry on. The man continues to scream and suddenly, Guddam asks me to hold her handbag, jumping out of the rickshaw and telling me to stay where I am. The scene changes dramatically. Guddam goes straight up to the guy raising her voice with every step. She begins to undress starting with her salwar and then her kameez. Totally naked, she stands in front of the man, yelling, pushing, cursing and touching him without shame. Showing her bare castrated body doesn’t bother her at all. It looks natural and she isn’t worried about who’s there or who’s watching. It looks as if she needs to settle some disagreement with him. The crowd stands silent. Watching all of this from the rickshaw it reminds me of a film set where everybody remains still without moving a millimeter while the movie is being filmed. The only two active characters are Guddam and the man who eventually runs away embarrassed and disgraced, leaving his stall unmanned. That was her intention. She returns to where her clothes lay and puts them back on. As if nothing had happened, she gets on the rickshaw, picks her handbag and commands to go on. We look at each other. Do you think I can ever get bored with you, Guddam? -I ask her. Guddam is always checking to see if I don’t get sort of tiresome with her. She lets out a loud laugh and I enquire her what was the matter about. She replies: ‘He was talking about you. He said you might be a new one in the group. A fresh Hijra. And I don’t want anybody talking about you like this’. Obviously, I have heard these stories many times before, but I’ve never seen it in real life. It’s quite shocking. It’s not by chance that people ostracize, avoid and exclude the Hijras. While I personally have such warm and pleasant experiences within the Hijra community, apparently it is not the general opinion. To be cursed by a Hijra who undresses and shows her mutilated genitals is one of the most shameful things that can happen to anybody yet this is the perfect response Hijras use towards their abusive and insensitive public.
11.00 pm. TV, newspapers and radio stations crews stand together at the main platform, where a Hijra fashion show had just started. Men whistling and shouting are their only public while women and children remain at home.
E M I T Y T R PA
he street is jam packed, most of it with men and boys. There is hardly any space to move and I find it difficult to keep my balance. They are stopping the traffic and performing in procession in such a crowded district in rush hour. Eyes are meticulously studying me without having a clue of who I am or what I am doing there. A boy approaches me and asks my
name, my country… Actually, it is the public who keep my feet on the ground because as I always feel, being with Hijras is taking part
of another movie. I have been asked before if I had never been scared of them. How could that be possible? I might not be objective since they treat me incredibly well and they had continously been taking care of me. Even now in the core of this confusion they keep a constant eye on me: they help me setting up my shawl, hold my handbag to let me dance and protect me from everyone who dares to hassle me. I keep on repeating myself, but they would never let anything bad happen to me. The music dies down and the performance is coming to an end as we arrive at a Muslim shrine. We are sitting outside and chairs are displayed for exclusively Hijras and me. The rest are standing in front of us, staring in silence. Sweets are served and after having them we enter in the place of worship. Gurus and chelas are resting in the open patio talking, looking or being absorbed by their thoughts. Being there. Heads covered. Whether it is for Hindu or Muslim celebrations, it is true that Hijras make quite a thing of it. I still have to laugh, yet feeling flabbergasted by a Hindu festival I went several years ago. Somewhat, somehow, out of the blue, unexpected and astonishing experience. According to legend, one day Lord Krishna took the female form to marry Aravan, a young warrior who was meant to die in war on the following day. As no girl was ready to marry him and become a widow within the next twenty-four hours, Lord Krishna incarnated as Mohini. The Hijras consider themselves as Mohini and they marry their deity and mourn on the next days, like widows. It is this myth, which brings Hijras from all India for more than twenty-five years to that certain spot, so I too decided to take a fifty-six hour train journey from Delhi down to Tamil Nadu, in South India. The train pulled in on time, yet I could not allow any minute to be wasted. I wanted to arrive before the ‘marriage’ would take place and I still had to go far inland: two more buses and more than five hours till touch done. The village was in the middle of nowhere, consisting of one main a few side roads. It was filled to bursting point everywhere; it seemed to have more public than the place could ever cater for. Foremost I needed to find a hotel. During the journey I met a man from the area who was willing to help me out and thanks to him, I could get a proper air-conditioned room. Once settled, I had to see what was happening outside. It was late afternoon and I could not believe it… Fantastic… Hijras and a diverse range of people were mingling on the streets: talking, flirting, laughing and arranging dates. Shops plenty of wigs, bracelets, lipsticks, handbags, high-heeled shoes, saris and party dresses. Full restaurants, food stalls everywhere… a complete fair. It was like the whole place was in a carnival mood. Villagers say that this area had been transformed from a boring, backward district to a popular hot spot over the years. Hotels were booked months in advance and a studied program was organized for participants: lectures, workshops and contests where among the activities. Every single hour was planned and an event guide was printed for the occasion. As I was strolling around, Bambi, a Hijra from Bombay, was drawn towards me and struck up a conversation. She was very surprised to see a foreigner in that place, particularly a girl on her own. Nonetheless, since I arrived in South, I felt much less harassed. Nobody bothered. Everyone let you be without trying to establish contact every two
minutes. The approach was far more relaxed, less stiff. Perhaps the hot weather helped on that one as well. Knowing it was my first time there Bambi wanted to show me around. She spoke fluent English and she dressed in western style: half knee flowery skirt and a top. She belonged to the big city and one minute later she affirmed me that ‘In Bombay you cannot survive unless you resort to begging or prostitution’. She had lived the second option, yet her wish was to run her own kindergarten one day. Society, bureaucracy and all sorts of obstacles didn’t let her be, as she would have liked to. Nevertheless, she was quite happy and she managed to endure life and offer a big smile at any moment. By looking around, I was able to spot Hijras although I could also recognise many men, probably gays, transgender and travesties; men with long dark moustaches were walking on sari along the streets while embracing other men in total freedom. Bambi told me everyone felt indeed very free. They were more themselves than during any other period of the year and they were respected without hiding themselves from anyone. Many of them were married men who came to liberate their other self. They wanted to enjoy their womanhood. (And I would hear this statement over and over again along the entire event). It was getting late night and Bambi and me fixed a meeting for the day after. She gave me the address of her hotel and the room number. Next morning I came across the owner of the hotel I was staying at. He asked me if I had met the other foreign guest in the complex. He was from Brazil. I was shocked! I hadn’t seen anyone from abroad since I arrived and within three hundred kilometres. As we were talking, Nilton, the Brazilian guest showed up. He traded hair and that was the reason he was in India, one of the best countries for the hair business. He came to see the festival with his lover Akash, a twenty-five year old Indian from Madras who had left wife and two children back home. He did that every year without anybody suspecting anything. We would meet later on as I was on my way to the conference space where a whole program of performances was taking place. It was three blocks ahead from my lodging; a quarter with more hotels, more restaurants and more shops. Everybody was enjoying themselves. It was time for party! The hall was packed and as I was squeezing myself among the crowd, a man stopped in front of a me and to my surprise, she was a real Hijra. Occasionally, I really got confused since I didn’t know who was who anymore. There were too many varieties of persons and identities, lives, genders, sexualities and personalities. She explained me the ins and outs of the festival and the current situation in Tamil Nadu. She also told me about her life and I found out she was the director of an association for Hijras in Madras that was in constant debates and lobbying to get more rights for her kind. She complained that Hijras have no rights whatsoever. They could not study, they could not choose for a profession and they were relegated to perform, beg or prostitute themselves as a rejected society. ‘The discrimination starts right in our own homes. There has been never recognition; Indian society is not educated to understand the ‘different’. At school they laugh at you, they ask your name, they enquire about your sex and they deny you the entry. We request our right to have a proper education, to have a job and become self-sufficient’ – she stated. The southern part of India is the most liberal part of the country. Its neighbour state, Kerala, has the lowest index on illiterate citizens of the total Indian geography. The North, in general, is more conservative and deep-rooted in traditions. Parallel to this, the South did not have that culture of harems nor Hijras installed in the palaces of the great kingdoms. No big conquerors. Therefore no trace of traditional ‘Hijrahood’ and more focus on the development of the individual. The social pressure in the South is definitely incomparable with the more rigid system that prevailes in North India.
Days later, once the festival had come to its end, I met her again at her office, 50 kilometres from Madras. She received me in a large two-stored building. A room lined up with beds was available for Hijras to come and stay temporarily. As I was leaving, after a deep conversation in major Hijra’s issues, she handed me a book. ‘It’s just out of the printer. I am the author and it focuses on the main aspects and problems we third gender confront in current societies. It describes our goals and where do we want to go. Read it, and please, be in touch. Tell in your country about us’. The show began. An elegant, stunning, tall Hijra introduced the performances. The singing contest had started. One by one made their appearance on the stage. They looked amazing. They posed and presented themselves with subtle, deep or histrionic voices. After almost two hours it didn’t seem to have an ending and I was getting impatience to know what was going on somewhere else. I arranged several appointments for the following days and went off to the street, where I met up with an interesting range of people… I even contacted with an Indian journalist from a TV station in Bombay who was doing a story on Radhika, a Hijra who had come with her mother and her younger brother to take part of the dancing competition. Days went on. I thought I was coming to a religious festival, but the most people I met had come here for sex; to enjoy and to do everything they were not allowed to do at home. Naturally, there was also a certain amount that came to meet up with their own, perform and be part of the religious experience. Roughly, I saw more homosexuals, transvestites and transgender than I expected and I came across castrated Hijras who brought their finest jewels and best clothes to make a lot of money. Sex and prostitution was indeed, one significant reason for joining the festival and condoms were distributed at several points. I hooked up with Nilton and Akash again and we three ended up in the most outrageous situations. We were running in and out the hotels and I could enter in almost every room where I knocked at the door. Bambi was around and we spent quite a lot of time together. Her friends were willing to tell me about their life experience and even got naked in front of me. It was three o’clock in the afternoon when we left the hotel rooms and the bright sun made us feel like having a break. Maybe we could sit somewhere? Akash asked me if I wanted to go to a bar. A bar? Was there any bar around? He looked at me with a big smile and guided Nilton and me along one of the main roads and took us through a door that looked like anything but the entrance of a bar. What? Yes, a bar! I could hardly see anything. Very low-lit. My eyes had to adjust to the darkness and it smelt of a hundred of humans who had been drinking and living there for days. I was sure that was exactly what it had happened. We sat on the left side surrounded by very shady furniture. What would we like to drink? Let’s have a beer. And aloo 65! -yelled Akash to the waiter. ‘A potato speciality from Tamil Nadu’, -he added. I kept on looking around and there were groups lying on the floor, sitting at the bar and dancing randomly. Suddenly, a group of men on saris came to us. They wanted to talk. They were so drunk, especially the one in front of me who was starting to undress. Her or she was taking his or her bra off when his or her friend (I don’t know anymore) stopped him or her and they disappeared as they appeared. More people came over, as Nilton and I were the only outsiders. A Spanish girl next to a 1.95 metres guy in a tight yellow sleeveless t-shirt and mini shorts! I was enjoining it. This was a crazy moment! Awesome! But yes, I had to find that part that came for the sacred aspect as well, and I definitely did. Time to move on. That evening was the big night. Hijras and everybody who wanted to, were about to marry Aravan. Despite being an occasion attended by mostly third gender, straight men and women were also taking part of it.
When I arrived into the splanade situated few kilometres away from the village, the sky was slowly getting dark and the flat field had turned into a playground where I could only see cars and buses creating a dust storm with hundreds and hundreds of silhouettes going on every direction. In a desolated landscape, they had built a proper fair where a small circus and fairground attractions were displayed around and a tiny temple was erected in the heart of it. Families, guy couples, boys and girls, Hijras, elderly men and women were gathering around the shrine queuing up to get inside the holy place and worship. I went into the temple were the fire, the candle wax, broken coconuts and smashed flowers was the setting of a room where hardly fifteen persons were able to stand still without stepping into each other. It was a trance of sweat, heat and voices and I let myself go with the overall ambience as that was the only way forward. It was a magic and strange moment. Like a dream between hell and heaven with faces looking up and asking for mercy and wishes to be real, hands extending to offer assistance and realize that visions become true. When I came out, I didn’t know if it was a hallucination or if it was meant to be as accurate as I had experienced it. I will never make it out and I believe the mystery will remain there. The rest of the night passed quickly and before I knew, the sun started to appear in the sky. Hijras appeared dressed in white, like the widows that they just happened to be. Crying and throwing themselves on the ground: desperate for having lost their loved one. A tragedy performed by many and an ending of two weeks of craziness, faith, sex, lost and found encounters. Many times I questioned myself what makes a person become a Hijra and I cannot find one single answer. It is an individual decision and there are many reasons and circumstances why they agree on not to be a man or a woman, but a third gender. I take in consideration that struggle: a confrontation of body, mind and surroundings. Each person gives me a different answer: ‘I am a eunuch’ ‘I consider myself a woman’ ‘My identity is a transgender’ ‘I am an in between’ ‘I am neither man nor woman’ ‘I am a Hijra’… slight distinctions lead to a common need of love and approval, an urge for understanding. Because at the end of the day we just want to be ourselves and live as we are without further explanations.
Sex, sex, sex
However, life is as it comes. So you take it or not. And you will because there is no other way.
Y L I M A F R FOREVE
y father asked me two days ago if I had to meet all the Hijras in India; probably not, but I still believe I didn’t figure out everything what it is there for me to see and understand. It’s kind of crazy to imagine that I am going to see every group or that I will be able to get some sort of conclusion out of those constant get-togethers. I think it’s been more of a casual coincidence that they have showed up in my life. Hijras triggered me from the beginning. The fact of trying to understand what
it means to be a third gender. And on top of that, to catalyze how deeply culture is rooted in all of us; how individual identity and society can transform our lives since the moment we are born. Of course I won’t be able to meet the entire population of Hijras in India. Figures accounted go from 50.000 to 1 million, which leaves a wide range of uncertainty. They live throughout the country and there is no census ever recorded. The most interesting part of meeting up is to see that every group are unique in its essence. [...] My train arrives. It’s a flat deserted landscape with a mountain range around it, a fabulous location, beautiful surrounding, but Hijras nowhere. Not even one. Maybe it is too early or I am not walking in the right spot. It is the third time I cross the village back and forth, but no trace of them. I feel desolated. I need to think. Did I come all this way for nothing? I discover a quiet cafe on a back street right in the middle of a garden and I decide to sit there. It seems that my worries are over my face because the boy who serves me, asks if everything is ok. I don’t feel like inventing a story, so I explain myself. Raju, that’s his name, tells me that there are indeed no Hijras coming to this festival. ‘You could try to meet the only one I know in the area. Her name is Sushila and she lives in the outskirts. He notes down her address and describes me her house. ‘She lives alone and has six cows. You have to go to the east side of town and ask for this direction. Good luck’. After half and hour walk, I wonder if this is the way since I am now far outside the village. ‘Straight on, straight on’ –everyone tells me when I show them the paper with the address written down. A house isolated at the far bottom of a hill. Few cows are standing outside. Will this be the place? I am getting excited and I jump onto the path that goes directly to the house with a sign post above the door, from which she would tell me later on, it had the word Hijra written on it, together with her phone number. Before I can see her face, I somehow know she is Sushila and the closer I get, the more she welcomes me with hands on the air. She doesn’t know who I am. I don’t really know who she is, but I feel at ease. Is it India, the Hijras or is it I? It looks like she was waiting for me to come. She knew of me before I arrived and she immediately gets a chair for me and I make out there is no use telling her that I don’t need one. In no time, a woman and few girls join us and place themselves around me. They are the neighbours from the nearest houses and Sushila asks the eldest to bring her water to do the dishes and organize chai for the guest. I am totally overwhelmed. Her affection and personality are everywhere. She is wearing a long black thick skirt and a silver belt that embraces her thin waist. A tiny choli, stylizes her tall and slim figure, and a big golden ring hangs from her nose making her look like a real Rajasthani intensifying her expression and deep gaze. Population of Rajhastan have very beautiful and distinguishing features and women wear heavy amount of jewellery over face, arms and legs. Sushila too. I appreciate something funny as well; I could have said she has big breasts although I realize that what it is increasing the size, are two thick wads. And she shows them proudly, offering me some and pushing me to accept it while radiating her confidence. I just can laugh. Everything seems surreal. The chai is served and bidis, the Indian cigarettes, are lighted. Sweets are brought and offered and once the protocol is over, she takes my hand and places me right in front of her door where she starts taking her skirt off. She is not trying to impress me; what she wants to do is to dress me up
with her own garments. First the black skirt, then the silver belt, the bright yellow dupatta (Indian shawl) and finally her jewellery, nose ring and lipstick included. We enjoy making photographs to each other, but she has more surprises. Apart from showing herself half naked together with one of her friends, she plans to introduce me to her six oxen and we stroll around her land to salute them one by one. She is very proud of her achievements and I manage to know that she makes part of her money selling the milk of her animals to neighbours and peasants. The case of Sushila is exceptional. For six years, she lives alone in this house that she has built with her own money. Nobody has contributed a single rupee in the terrain she owns and where she has put all her time and effort. She began with a room and one cow. Nowadays, she counts with two cows and four buffalos and last year she finished the new wing next to her house, where she keeps the animals at night. It is not a common thing for a Hijra and far less for an Indian woman to live this way. This is indeed the first time I meet a Hijra living independently from a community. As I can figure out, this only happens when there have been misunderstandings with members of the group. Otherwise they will, almost always, keep a relationship with the group. If ever occurs problems or big misunderstandings with one Hijra, the gurus would weigh up the circumstances and a consensus of the guruâ€™s opinions will dictate a final verdict. When a certain situation does not end up in an agreement, major and more serious decisions will be taken with the irreparable and irreversible consequence of throwing a person out of the group. Hence this is a core element of their closed system, acting as a secret society within the Indian society. No one else will determine on these matters and nobody except the Hijras would be ever part of that consent.
Special thanks to: Guddam Feezah Radha Natasha Guru Babu Lal Meenakshi Santi Usha Sushila I Fahima Nirmal Tammana Mundi Bhuri Danish Raveena Sunita Wazeem Meena Ruby Soraya Baby Sheba Parvati Feroz Shobab Sonia Sushila II
And of course, to my friends and family who had supported and helped me out throughout the years.
Photographs, texts and design by Marta Serrano ÂŠ 2011 www.bymarta.com