The Hijra People
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Hijra people, also known as eunuch's, are legally recognised as third gender in India since they don't associate themselves as either male nor female. In the western culture they are referred to as transgender, a person who identifies as a different gender to what they were thought to be born as. Hijra are born identifying as male however later in life identify as female. Not all hijra will undergo transgender surgery, however those who do are traditionally considered of a higher status amongst the community.
Many believe that hijra people are considered dangerous and are feared by society. They are best known for bestowing blessings, however they not only can bestow blessings, but curses too. The curse of childlessness is wielded as a weapon against anyone who refuses to give them money or pokes fun at them. This curse is not taken lightly hence why hijra's are feared and shunned by society.
One of the many myths surrounding the hijra, is that should your child be born identifying as third gender, then the hijra community have the right to claim your child as their own. Hence the fear people have towards them with the belief they will be cursed to have hijra children and be childless. It is thought that this is punishment by god to be born as a woman trapped in a man's body.
The third gender community in India are ostracised by many in society, therefore they are banned from many public places and don't receive equal employment opportunities. As a result they have created their own lifestyle and are often encountered in the streets, trains and other public places, demanding money from young men. If refused, the hijra may attempt to embarrass the person into giving money, using obscene gestures, profane language and even sexual advances.
Hijra's are also known to perform religious ceremonies at weddings or at a newly wedded couple's home after marriage, involving music, singing and sexually suggestive dancing. These ceremonies are intended to bring good luck and fertility to the newlyweds. Although the hijras are most often uninvited, they demand payment from the host. Many fear the hijras curse if they are not appeased, therefore will almost always pay or gift them whatever they may request. Should they not do so, the hijra can bring bad luck or infertility to the newlyweds.
I recall vividly on the day after our wedding, as these robust women in full traditional clothing, decked with jewels and heavily applied make up arrived at our front door. I watched on from inside the house as they talked candidly and my relatives all smiled and laughed at the drop of anything the hijra said. Some relatives had raced inside to tell my husband the hijra are here, so make sure your wife doesn't go outside. My husband told me that should the hijra see that I am fair skinned they will charge us twice as much money. Simply because westerners are believed to be tourists and therefore should have lots of money. At this point I was confused as to what was going on and who are these hijra people that have got my family scurrying around in a fluster.
The loud overbearing woman eventually made her way into the house despite my family's attempts to try and keep her distracted outside. She immediately spotted me and came to sit beside me, she spoke candidly with all of her body, touching me and being overtly friendly then asked me outright for money in English. I told her that I do not have any money as I don't have a job. Everyone laughed nervously as my husband translated what I had just said. This banter went on for a few minutes, attempting to get some sort of payment from me. Though in India your family's money is also considered your money, so the hijra kept up the banter not believing that I had no money.
My family were extremely nervous I would say something to upset the hijra. She then pointed to my wedding ring insinuating I give this as payment. I told her that it was my wedding ring so she said to me that I would then instead owe her a gold ring. The hijra were in awe at just how fair my skin was. Since I was so fair skinned she doubled her price of 2,500 rupees to 5,000 rupees and my mother in law quickly obliged. She scurried off to get the cash as the hijra went back outdoors to the front courtyard where all of our friends and family were seated.
There were three hijra however only two were all glammed up in lehenga choli's. These two women started dancing and singing to the audience, taking it in turns to perform. Whilst one performed the other went about collecting food from my mother in law as payment. They threw rice over my husband and I as we sat watching in spectacle. The hijra then hand fed me a traditional sweet and threw more rice at me.
The hijra who seemed to be in charge, still could not fathom my fairness. Fair skin to many Indian people is seen as beauty, although to me I just felt pale and pasty. After about half an hour of performing they accepted the 5,000 rupees payment from my mother in law. However because the hijra were in awe of my fair skin and how beautiful I was, they returned 2,500 rupees. Although my mother in law did not take it back lightly in fear of disrespecting the hijra. She declined the return payment a few times before she eventually accepted it and thanked the hijra.
My husband and I then received a blessing and the hijra gifted me a ten rupees note. It is tradition to keep hold of the blessing as it will bring good fortune in bearing children. Should you lose the blessing it is considered to be bad fortune and you will bear the curse of childlessness. I still actually have the note gifted to me, to this very day.
If you are to believe in the blessing of the hijra, then we have been fortunate to have been blessed with many children and a boy first child, just as the hijra told me back then.