India : the third sex

Hijra : eunuch. India.

In the indian culture, there are men, there are women and there are people who are neither men nor women. They are viewed as a “third sex” that has always existed, they are called “hijra”, they dress like women and there are about 1.000.000 in the country. Indians think they are born sexless but truly they are males who have become either eunuchs or transvestites. They consider themselves as something apart not as women and make a living out of male prostitution, ritual performances and begging. They live in groups under the guidance of a leader (“guru”). Sometimes, they belong to such a band since their boyhood when their parents offered them to the “guru” after an happy event occured. ..or because they already behaved like girls. They worship Bahuchara Mata, an aspect of the Mother Goddess in hinduism. That’s for her sake they undergo emasculation, an operation that is done with a specific knife and without anaesthesia.

In the Indian society,”Hijra” have an ambivalent place. They are respected because they are believed to have supernatural powers. For example, in the 1920’s, when the monsoons deserted the city of Bhopal, the ruling Nawab’s family got so worried that it tried everything to save the water bodies. From marrying frogs to digging wells, they tried it all, but the clouds stayed away. Then, a wandering band of eunuchs was invited from Delhi. They danced and prayed for rains for almost a week before it started pouring. Moreover they are seen as having the power to confer fertility on male children and newlywed couples. Hence their traditional role to perform at weddings and at homes where a male child is born. They receive gifts for this. But if their expectations are not pleased or if they are forbidden to perform, they can become angry and throw the evil eye. That’s why many Indians mock them…behind the back.

Since 2010, “hijra” living in Delhi receive a monthly pension ( 1.000 Rs = 16 euros = 18 US $) if they can’t sustain themselves. Indeed, young eunuchs earn some money but those above 40 are very poor. But that’s not too much ! To have a breast, the hormonal treatment is not enough and an implantation costs an average Rs 75.000.

Being an “hijra” is not only a sexual fantasy. On the contrary, the castration has a spiritual and mystic connotation. This is the only mean to attain the peace of mind, the absence of desire that is required to reach “moksha”, the bliss, the stage when the individual soul merges with the Brahman, the absolute in hinduism.

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My blog is all about travelling and photography
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3 Responses to India : the third sex

  1. What a diverse and wonderous world we live in!
    It feels like a peak into a deeper mystery of life to get wind of a third mistical sex.

  2. Diane C says:

    Thank you for posting this. I work with LGBTQ youth and it is good for them to see that there are places in the world where a third gender is not only accepted but revered!

    • Accepted, OK but revered not really. Traditional minded Indians respect hijra but modern minded Indians ( western educated Indians) are more rational, more sceptical concerning the “powers” of the hijra. That’s why many mock them…discretely. In India, there is still respect for the tradition, for what the elders believed.

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