Hijra-The Third Gender in India

  • February 6, 2011 5:07 PM GMT
    Hijra-The Third Gender in India
    Takeshi Ishikawa

    Most Hijra live out their lives as women with other Hijra in "family groups", earning an existance by performing in traditional ceremonies at weddings and childbirths. Many also work as prostitutes and beggars in this lowly but traditional Indian caste. Some Hijra today are fortunate to have access to female hormones, and can feminize their bodies by growing breasts and developing natural female body contours. The combination of emasculation as teenagers combined with use of estrogen enables some Hijra now to become very beautiful - even though, sadly, they do not have female genitalia (vaginas) and are not socially accepted as women.

    The origins of the Hijra caste goes back hundreds of years in Indian history. This widespread practice enables transsexuals to escape the angst and fate of masculinization as teenagers, and provides a safe though lowly place in society for them. The agonizing extremes to which these transsexual youngsters will go in order to "approximately have a female gender", with full knowledge that they will never see their families again and will face social degradation for the rest of their lives, is a testament to the reality and extremity of the gender conflict that they face within themselves.

    There are several million Hijra in India and Bangladesh today. For more information see the Kinnar (Hijra) website at http://www.kinnar.com/ and the BBC story on Hijra in Bangladesh. Many wonderful photos of Hijra can be found in the book Hijra-The Third Gender in India , by Takeshi Ishikawa. Although shrouded in caste secrecy and mystery for centuries, the underlying condition that compels young teenagers to become Hijra is clearly transsexualism: Says Dhanam, the leader of a Hijra family (a Hijra 'Guru'):
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