The Hijras of India

By Jasmonae Chisel, Xavier University

It is said that globalization plays a huge role in the construction of gender for many cultures in society. Although it may not have struck the attention of many people, globalization affected the gender of the Hijras of India for many years. The Hijras of India are a group of unique and interesting people. The group focuses on beliefs that are extremely different from the beliefs of many other India cultures. Although many people may look down on this group because of their different beliefs and cultural traditions; the Hijras continue what they believe in, and do not care what people have to say. The Hijras acceptance with their feminine side makes them stand out from everyone else. The Hijras’ tradition has been passed on for many generations and continues today. Gender does not play a big role in the Hijras’ culture because the Hijras believe that there is no such thing as man or woman. Their focus on doing gender is surprisingly different, but unique. This South Asian society opens the doors for many other cultures by taking chances in what they have always have believed is right. The Hijras make gender non-existence in their society. They believe one is what she wants to be. The Hijras offer a very unique view in the image of a third-gender. The Hijras of today have their ancestors to thank for their traditional beliefs.

The ancestors of past generations offered unique beliefs that set up the modern societies for the Hijras. The concept of making the ancestors proud followed throughout the Hindu belief. If the ancestors were Hijras and still made it to the after world, then the Hijras followed because it must have been promising for life after death (Reddy 168). It was nothing but tradition that led the Hijras to making decision that changed the way society views them. This was just a classic example of following tradition and sticking to the beliefs of the great-great-great grandparents. It is up to the Hijras to keep the tradition going. Religion came in with the Hijras belief of gender.

Religion plays a major role in the construction of the Hijras. It is the belief of the Hindu faith that sex is the key to everything. Having sex with this faith is a blessing. The Kama Sutras are a great way to explain the Hindu beliefs. The Kama Sutras introduce a third nature which is like the Hijras. It is a man dressed in women clothing giving oral sex to a male customer. Hindu beliefs focus on same sex being normal. When oral sex is being performed with homosexuals it is normal, but once it becomes heterosexual oral sex is a sin (Reddy 164). These beliefs show that homosexuality is normal in the society of the Hindus. The Hindu belief led to many dual-gendered figures.

The Hijras believe that dual-gender figures are more powerful the any other identifications. Hijras are men who dress and act like women. They do not consider themselves to be men or women, but a third-gender or sub-cast. They are classified as eunuchs, which are castrated men. The Hijras believe that if they do not go through this type of operation they are worthless, useless, and do not exist. Undergoing this operation classifies the Hijras as being “True” Hijras. This operation is so important because it gives the Hijras the honored right of being addressed in a feminine way with ms, miss, or Mrs. (Reddy 180). This is a great achievement when the groups of men are addressed with feminine pronouns also because it shows them that they have achieved the honor that generations and generations of Hijras have achieved before them.

Achieving the recognition for a Hijra does not come easy. There are many rituals and ceremonies an uprising Hijra has to go though to become a true Hijra. Many different tribes of the Hijra culture do different types of rituals to be formally accepted into a group that society views as weird. The culture is very different, but necessary to the beliefs of the Hindu. The Hijras are more concerned with being recognized for what they do, rather than what they are. The importance of these tribes are very valuable to society oppose to what many other groups may believe. The Hijras are known throughout many different cultures. Their name carries a value of great importance. The more men engaged in the type of society will bring more people to realize that the Hijras are just another one of them. The Hijras want to be known for the accomplishment of introducing a new gender into the world. Rituals were the great works behind the Hijras.

The rituals of being reborn into a Hijras are widely spreading throughout the India culture. The Hijra goes through a ritual in which they are castration. In castration, the men are stripped of all their masculine traits. At these rituals, the men are looked up on as the new upcoming society of the third gender (Arondekar 4). The Hijra prepare for these rituals as if the ritual was a wedding of some sort. They have to make sure it is the right time of year, climate, and day. Becoming a Hijra is like becoming a doctor or lawyer; might go farther than becoming a doctor or lawyer it is as important as seeing god himself or even their ancestors (Reddy 193). The rituals provide the men soon to be Hijras with sight into a better life and future for them. Sexuality is the key to the Hijras’ beliefs.

Sexuality is very important to the Hijras. The Hijras are not looked up on as a gendered or sexual, but a great culture born under kinship, religion, class, and hierarchies of respect. When it comes to having sex, there are a great difference between the man who gives the semen throughout intercourse, and the man who receives. The man that penetrates keeps his masculine identity, and the man who gets penetrated is called a queer (Arondekar 3). The focus of the group is to show who has the power. The belief that many other groups show is if you have intercourse with someone of the same sex, than you are gay or homosexual, but the Hijras belief that if you are parting the all the work into having sex with the same sex then you are not gay. Sex is sex meaning one cannot become gay just because they have sex with the same sex (Arondekar 2). The Hijras are very straight forward when it comes down to having sex.

Many Hijra engage in sex for many. The man that they have sex with are called their “husbands”. Engaging in sex with many men in the community is normal to the Hijra. The main role behind being a Hijra is having sex freely and willingly (Arondekar 5). Having sex is a type of entertainment for the Hijra. They believe that they could be a good benefit to men as well as the women can. They are not trying to take every husband away from his wife, but they want to single out those men who do not quite know what they are classified as meaning or they heterosexual, homosexual, or third gender. They want to be there for those men who do not feel comfortable saying they are gay, but like to have sex with other men. The Hijras are in the same position as those men. They do not want to be called gay, but they want to be considered the third gender. The roles of the wife and husband change in between the Hijras.

The role of the once men changing in the housing situation, meaning the mother or now fathers and the father (Hijras) are now the mothers. The mothers have to support the families as if she was originally a man. This role is very interesting because the Hijras offer or shows a feminine act by switching roles in the family. The Hijras are looked up on now as mom because he now cooks, cleans, and cares for the children. He now runs the household and keeps everything in order for the family.

Although the Hijras are labeled as a third-gender or sex, they play major roles in the entertainment and celebrations of society. It is more than just being defined as a third-gender, but more as being recognized as a wonder group who made a difference in the world. The Hijras would show up to weddings, birthing, and parties uninvited or unannounced and bless the event by singing, dancing, and drumming. This gathering is not just a celebration, but it is recognition for the Hijra tribe. The celebration gives them a chance to present themselves to society in a way that speaks their beliefs and what they stand for. The Hijras engage in these activities to show that they mean no harm to society, but they only want to be accepted for the good things they do not the type of sexual activities they engage in. The Hijras want society to know that they want to just be looked at as they group that is different and unique in their own way. Health problems are a big issue throughout the Hijras’ tribe.

The Hijras have many been the concern for many health issues in society and in their community. With the homosexual intercourse the HIV/AIDS virus has spread greatly throughout the community. An issue of human rights and awareness has come up in many government concerns. What to do with men who are intentionally having sex with other men and spreading the HIV/AIDS virus. The HIV/AIDS virus has been sweeping through the Hijra community for many generations, but the Hijras do not really care about the virus because they continue having sexual intercourse with men and spreading the virus.

Society views the Hijras as being nasty, dirty, and a disgrace to mankind, but the Hijras care less because they have no shame in their belief and culture. The Hijras feel that it is a freedom of choice and sacrifice to engage in something as extraordinary as becoming a Hijra. They think that if they do not follow their ancestors in the tradition then they would be treated badly in the afterlife. It is an honor to the Hijra to have achieved that great name. The Hijras keep their head held high no matter what people in society has to say about their discussion to become this type of gender or group in society.

The integration of the Hijras into society has changed the world once known to mankind. At one point the classification of one’s gender was male or female, but now there is another gender in the world. This third gender not only roams the areas of India, but all over the continent there are different genders uprising. For instance, in South America there are some Hijras and many other places are seeing the new generation of Hijras. This new addition to society for many places is shocking because what will happen now that there is a third gender. Children will have to choose from three instead of two genders.

Work Cited

Arondekar, Anjali. The Voyage Out: Transacting Sex under Globalization. Feminist Studies; Summer2007, Vol. 33 Issue 2, p337-349, 13p. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=wdh&AN=27452631&site=ehost-live>

Reddy, Gayatri. ‘Men’ Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation, and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics. Social Research; Spring2003, Vol. 70 Issue 1, p163-200, 38p.http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=wdh&AN=9840624&site=ehost-live>

Reddy, Gayatri. With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra identity in South India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=wdh&AN=27452631&site=ehost-live>

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