On April 15th 2014, the Supreme Court passed a verdict saying it recognizes the three million and odd people belonging to the transgender group in India. It ordered the government to provide transgender people with jobs and education as well as certain other amenities.
Yet, in spite of the verdict, not all government and private forms have the option of ‘T’ on them, leading to a lack of opportunities for the hijras in education and employment. The lack of recognition of the third gender has lead to a difficulty in procuring passports, ration cards, driving licenses and the newly introduced adhar card.
However, of late, a few changes have been made in India and its subcontinent, bringing a glimmer of hope for the community. On April 24th 2015, the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the parliament) passed the Rights to Transgender Persons’ bill which ensures reservation and social inclusion of the transgender community.
Recently, even the courts of the neighboring country of Bangladesh recognized the third gender.
A public place in Nepal introduced bathroom facilities for the third gender, a cubicle marked ‘T’, beside restrooms marked ‘M’ and ‘F’.
In another landmark event this year, Ms. Manobi Bandhopadhay became the first transgender person to be appointed to the position of the principal of a college in West Bengal in India. Ms. Bandhopadhyay attributed her success to the 2014 Supreme Court verdict.
However, Ms. Bandhopadhyay’s case may be an exception rather than the rule. In spite of the apex court verdict recognizing the third gender, public ignorance and a lack of awareness, makes them the most stigmatized, ostracized and marginalized community in India. The situation is such a pathetic one that hijras are not seen as human beings, but as targets of laughter, mockery and ridicule. The fear of those who have ambiguous genitals or exhibit gender inappropriate behavior is so great that even biological parents and siblings sometimes dump them in a hijra house. Otherwise, the treatment of such people by family and friends is so atrocious that they voluntarily flee their homes to join the jamat.
Sometimes, there is a great contradiction in the way the society treats transgenders. Since may believe that their castration has blessed them with supernatural powers, they are treated with an ironical kind of a deference and are invited to perform for a badhai at weddings, childbirths et al.
However, the very people who consider the hijras as auspicious on certain occasions may slate them as being inauspicious otherwise and deprive them of equal opportunities and rights to equal participation in society. The widespread fear and hatred of the third gender make them soft targets of flagrant bullying and harassment by the people. A great deal of disrespect is shown by lecherous men, clients or otherwise, who harass the hijras, physically and sexually. There are instances in which they are ruthlessly beaten up for no ostensible reason, sodomized and forced to give oral pleasure to the male police personnel.
The police personal misuse the IIPA or the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and make villains of hijras, accusing them of grim charges such as abduction of children, irrespective of whether they are guilty or not. The accounts of harassment and custodial torture of the arrested hijras is bone-chilling, to say the least.
The discrimination against the hijra community is so inhuman; that they might hypothetically use the argument Shylock does in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, albeit with minor alterations “I am a hijra. Hath not a hijra eyes? Hath not a hijra hands, organs, dimensions, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as the male or female is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?