Tuesday, September 15, 2009

German Student Needs Some Help

I got an email from a German student doing research on the Hijras. He could use some help from experts or Hijras themselves. The email had been edited as bit for length and spelling.

my Name is David, I'm a student of History of India in Berlin/Germany.
I'm close to finishing my studys with a final essay: Hijras- From the Mythologie till Today.

I'm trying an overview from the first stories about Hijras in Mythology, to the means of Islam, to the British and finally to modernity.

I would love to ask some Hijras, or people who stand close, a few questions.

One of my Thesis is, that most Hijras are homosexual or transgendered- which is nothing new, but that there are so many because the sexual education in India is no good and people who are homosexual and transgendered, just don't know about this things. They only know Hijras are the ones to live with if you don't desire woman and don't feel like becoming a father.
And the second Thesis is, that there will be less Hijras in future, because of the growing of sexual education and the following awareness of gender differences.

So, to put it straight:
-Would you agree that Hijras are going to vanish because of sexual education or do you think Hijra is a lifestyle more than only being homosexual or transgendered?
-Do you think heterosexual man also follow Bahuchara Mata, after dreaming of her and emasculate themself?
-Why do you think ist Bahuchara Mata the main goddess, I cant find the link between cutting of the penis and getting the power to curs or bless.
- What is the impact of islam on the hindu huijra cult? Is castration maybe a heritage from Islam?

Are you able to help David? If so, contact him directly at: captain-dave@web.de and make sure you mention that you saw his email on the blog.


Anonymous said...

David's theory, while plausible, are incorrect.

The hijra "cult" in India originated during the dark ages. Brahmins (religious priests, the highest caste) in Hindu society benefited by subjugating Sudras (the lowest caste). They did this by castrating into hijras the Sudra males, and by promoting the marriage to the Gods of Sudra females through the Devadasi system (which essentially meant sexual slaves for the clergy). The castration ritual comes from this historical past, not from Islamic culture (Islam has circumcision, not castration).

While the hijra cult began this way about 2000 years ago, hijras became valuable to the kings and queens. Hijras could be kept as guards to protect royal females, without the risk of sexual overtures towards royal females.

During the 400 years before the last decade, Hindu society found another purpose for hijras, based on new myth about the spiritual powers of hijras. Hijras were also sometimes welcomed to ceremonies and celebrations as entertainers.

The British rulers of India made hijras illegal through the Criminal Tribes act of 1871. Since then, the hijra culture has become more outcast in India than ever before.

At present, hijras are merely beggars and prostitutes. The extent of social ostracism towards them is so severe that hijras have no other means to earn a living.

So, why would someone want to be hijra? Not everyone who is hijra wants to be hijra. There are several categories of people you need to consider here -

1. Intersex individuals have chromosomes that are not XX or XY, but rather XXY or XYY or XXX or XXXY or some other combination. They often have ambiguous genitalia or non-functioning reproductive systems. At birth, parents in India who look forward to a male child, often abandon their intersex baby.

2. Children from poor families are often sold by their parents for money. In other cases, young boys are kidnapped. Such young boys are often castrated, so that they remain impotent and unable to have power in society. They are then raped and exploited. Such children and adolescents often join hijra communities, and paradoxically mete out the same treatment to little children whom they then kidnap.

3. There are transgender individuals in the world, who are not necessarily homosexual. Gender identity is formed before birth, and does not necessarily match their sexual organs or their sexual orientation. Gender identity is about who you identify as. Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to. You can be a man and be attracted to other men, you do not have to become a woman to be attracted to a man. Such transgender individuals become hijras, because their families and the rest of society abandons them. They can find refuge only in hijra communities and they can earn a living only from begging and prostitution. The reason for ostracism is not the lack of understanding about sex (there are 1 billion people in India, who were created through sexual reproduction!!!), but rather the historical stigma associated with Sudras, with being impotent, with being prostitutes, etc.

Sex education is not going to solve these problems.

The fundamental flaw in David's idea is the mixing of sex and gender together. No, sex education is not going to eliminate the hijra cult.

To eliminate the hijra cult and the atrocities against transgender and intersex individuals, India must -

1. Recognize Gender Identity and Gender Expression as legitimate concepts, separate from Sex and Sexual Orientation.

2. Create and enforce strong hate crimes laws to protect people whose Gender Identity does not match their Sex Organs at Birth.

3. Provide housing and opportunities for education and employment, along with strict non-discrimination laws based on Gender Identity.

4. Legalize gender reassignment surgeries for individuals who need it for genuine Gender Identity Disorder.

Sara Marks said...

I want to reply directly to your comments as an armchair anthropologist (i.e. I just read things from the comfort of my arm chair). You left me few options on how to do this with your decision to be an anonymous commenter.

I don't entirely disagree with your point, but there are a few little things I want to address.

First, you comment on the origins of the hijra cult. In America, referring to something as a cult has a specific, negative connotation. For us, a cult is a scam that brainwashes you and takes all your money for the leader. This is unfair to the hijra community. Although, after reading all your comments, I think this is exactly what you want to communicate with readers.

Second, your comments about the dark ages origins of the community, where did you get that information from? I have never read that. Granted, I have not really kept up with my research in the community. You state these as fact and you need to be able to back them up with a source. You are posting as an anonymous commenter therefore you have no authority to make factual statements without a citation. If you are a scholar on the subject, please identify yourself. Citations will be especially helpful for David as a student who will be required to cite his sources.

Third, gender is not assigned before or from birth. Sex is assigned from birth. Gender is what we are taught. I agree that Gender and sex don't always match. I agree that sex doesn't always mean man or woman (intersexed obviously being the most obvious).

Finally, you seem to be working from the assumption that the solution is the end of the hijra community. I say this by your use of the word cult and you actually say "No, sex education is not going to eliminate the hijra cult."

Many people aren't trying to eliminate them, but legitimate them. Many people want to help them live better lives. You don't just eliminate a culture that has existed since the dark ages. This gets to the heart of all Indian culture (regardless of religion). The whole caste system is a clear indication of the type of value they put on different people.

Although, as an American, I have very different values and social understandings. I try to avoid putting my view of the world on the entire. Who am I to say that the best solution is to end the hijra community or to reeducate the world?

Sara Marks said...

Oh, one last comment. Did you email David with your response or did you just post it here?

Chris said...

Sara, I ran across your blog thanks to a MetaFilter thread (here). I'm a linguist and I couldn't help remember an interesting sociolinguistics article about hijra by Kira Hall: "Go Suck Your Husband’s Sugarcane!" Hijras and the Use of Sexual Insult(pdf). Just thought I'd pass it along.

Sara Marks said...

Hi Chris,
I do know about that article, it is pretty well known in the Hijra academic community. I used it about 10 years ago when I wrote my own undergraduate thesis that inspired the blog and related webpage. It's a fantastic read.