Hijras- The Mischievous Deviants
By Richa Mehta
Human society is a complex organization of role relationships. There are specific roles which are performed by men and women in society, and these have been highlighted clearly throughout the course of history. However though, in rare certain situations these roles may get jumbled thus producing an individual who becomes an unusual specimen and a freak of nature, popularly known in India as a “Hijras”, “khusras”, “asexuals”, “middle-sexed”,”neutrals”, “eunuchs”, etc.
Very often on the streets of India, we come across groups of closely shaven people in a female attire, singing and dancing, making loud clapping sounds with their hands and stopping people passing by to extract money from them, threatening to curse them if their demands are not met, these individuals are Hijras.
At this intersection we come to a question “who exactly are the Hijras”? Many scholars have attempted to answer this question, and the most common answer is that Hijra is the third gender role in India, besides male and female. This is a very unique mixture of both the sexes and thus contains characteristics of both. Some believe that Hijras are emasculated males, while others believe they are normal men who like to cross dress or are transvestites.
We may assume that the dressing styles of Hijras may resemble that of transvestites, but their motives do not, thus Hijras are different from transvestites, this is further confirmed by the popular belief that Hijras are castrated men, whereas transvestites are not.
Hijras claim that there deformity is biological in nature and not an act of castration. Therefore it seems reasonable to define Hijras as sexually deformed men and women, who are not capable of reproduction and thus are constantly haunted by stigmas attached to them. It is because of these stigmas that Hijras are isolated from the mainstream society and thus left to live a life of their own, and thus lead the life of a deviant individual.
Another sign of deviance comes from the fact that Hijras live in their own communities, which are starkly isolated from the rest of the society. They have their own rules of social conduct and ways of doing things.There is a very strong order of hierarchy in the community or “dera” as they call it.They come with a motive of breaking away from the norms of regular society. Sexual deformities are identified in infants at the time of birth and they are taken away from their families by leaders of the Hijra community, and are thereafter brought up in their organization as their presence at home creates stigmas for the family. The identity crises, therefore forces them to accept an alternative lifestyle and live in mini societies with others like themselves. The living condition of a Hijra Dera is parallel to that of a family. There is one leader or head known as the “guru” who has 5 -10 followers known as “chelas”. A gender identity is maintained within the family. A Hijra is either male or female, depending upon the role they perform. The daughters dance on the roads while the sons play the instruments, and the mother takes care of the house while the father or guru collects the daily earnings of his children. Role relationships are clearly highlighted in the Dera.
In summary, the Hijra community is a very unique and mischievous community, which has scant literature about them and their activities. They have always remained aloof from the commotion of the main stream society and thus have been looked upon with suspicion and indifference, as they have chosen the deviant path to existence. Today however, Hijras are breaking out of their traditional occupations and entering into a variety of other fields like politics, acting, business etc. thus changing their community in entirety. There is a conscious effort from there end to integrate with the main stream society and break away from the stereotypes that have haunted there community for decades.