In India the transgender group is
commonly called Hijras. The hijra population is the most visible (male to
female) population in India and other transgender identities are associated
with the hijra identity. They have religious-cultural and rich historical
background. The term hijra is derived from the Urdu word meaning ‘impotent
ones’, ‘eunuchs’ or hermaphrodites where the irregularity of male genitalia
defines the term. “Within the Indian context the term hijra is used for people
who identify themselves as neither man nor woman (Nanda, 14). In India the
transgender group comprises of Hijras,
eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as
a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu
mythology and other religious texts. The Concept of tritiya prakrti or napunsaka
has also been an integral part of vedic and puranic literatures. The word ‘napunsaka’
has been used to denote absence of procreative capability.


            According to the”Hijras: Hijras
are biological males who reject their ‘masculine’ identity in due course of
time to identify either as women, or “not-men”, or “in-between man and woman”,
or “neither man nor woman”. Hijras can be considered as the western equivalent
of transgender/transsexual (male-to-female) persons but Hijras have a long
tradition/culture and have strong social ties formalized through a ritual
called “reet” (becoming a member of Hijra community). There are regional
variations in the use of terms referred to Hijras. For example, Kinnars (Delhi)
and Aravanis (Tamil Nadu). Hijras may earn through their traditional work:
‘Badhai’ (clapping their hands and asking for alms), blessing newborn babies,
or dancing in ceremonies. Some proportion of Hijras engage in sex work for lack
of other job opportunities, while some may be self-employed or work for
non-governmental organisations.” Defining
other terms, Eunuch refers to an emasculated male and intersexed
to a person whose genitals are ambiguously male-like at birth, but this is
discovered the child previously assigned to the male sex, would be re
categorized as intersexed – as a Hijra. Hijras in Tamil Nadu identify as
“Aravani”. Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Welfare Board, a state government’s initiative
under the Department of Social Welfare defines Aravanis as biological males who
self-identify themselves as a woman trapped in a male’s body. Some Aravani
activists want the public and media to use the term ‘Thirunangi’ to refer to
Aravanis. Kothis are a heterogeneous group. ‘Kothis’ can be described as
biological males who show varying degrees of ‘femininity’ – which may be
situational. Some proportion of Kothis has bisexual behavior and get married to
a woman. Kothis are generally of lower Socio economic status and some engage in
sex work for survival. Some proportion of Hijra-identified people may also
identify themselves as ‘Kothis’. But not all Kothi identified people identify
themselves as transgender or Hijras.  Jogtas
or Jogappas are those persons who are dedicated to and serve as a servant of
goddess Renukha Devi (Yellamma) whose temples are present in Maharashtra and
Karnataka. ‘Jogta’ refers to male servant of that Goddess and ‘Jogti’ refers to
female servant (who is also sometimes referred to as ‘Devadasi’). One can
become a ‘Jogta’ (or Jogti) if it is part of their family tradition or if one
finds a ‘Guru’ (or ‘Pujari’) who accepts him/her as a ‘Chela’ or ‘Shishya’
(disciple). Sometimes, the term ‘Jogti Hijras’ is used to denote those
male-to-female transgender persons who are devotees/servants of Goddess Renukha
Devi and who are also in the Hijra communities. This term is used to
differentiate them from ‘Jogtas’ who are heterosexuals and who may or may not dress
in woman’s attire when they worship the Goddess. Also, that term differentiates
them from ‘Jogtis’ who are biological females dedicated to the Goddess.
However, ‘Jogti Hijras’ may refer to themselves as ‘Jogti’ (female pronoun) or
Hijras, and even sometimes as ‘Jogtas’. Shiv-Shakthis are considered as
males who are possessed by or particularly close to a goddess and who have
feminine gender expression. Usually, Shiv- Shakthis are inducted into the
Shiv-Shakti community by senior gurus, who teach them the norms, customs, and rituals
to be observed by them. In a ceremony, Shiv-Shakthis are married to a sword
that represents male power or Shiva (deity). Shiv-Shakthis thus become the bride
of the sword. Occasionally, Shiv-Shakthis crossdress and use accessories and
ornaments that are generally/socially meant for women. Most people in this community
belong to lower socio-economic status and earn for their living as astrologers,
soothsayers, and spiritual healers; some also seek alms.

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Unlike the Western
philosophies build up on binaries, ancient India accommodated different thoughts
and philosophies at the same time.  Hindu
philosophy has the concept of a third sex or third gender. In Indian mythology
there are stories of gods and mortals changing gender, manifesting as different
genders at different genders at different times or combining to form
hermaphrodite beings. “There are many myths, legends, rituals, religious roles
and themes in Hinduism which entertain the notion of “sexually ambiguous or
dual gender manifestations” (Nanda, 24).

are linked with religious ceremonies and rituals and sometimes they are seen as
demi-gods. They challenge western ideas of sex and gender. Epics like
Mahabharata and Ramayana acknowledges the presence of the third gender. Ancient
Kamasutra has references about the third gender(tritiya prakriti). Their
culture is centered on the worship of bahuchara Mata, one of the many versions
of Mother Goddess worshipped throughout India( Nanda, 24). The most important
traditional role of a hijra is to perform and bless the homes where a boy child
is born. They have ritual roles at marriages also.  The hijras perform and blesses the married
couple for fertility. The performers must be “real” hijras, that is they must
be emasculated or intersexed and the hijra dancers must be dressed in women’s
clothing. As ritual performers, they are viewed as vehicles of the divine power
of the mother goddess, which transforms their impotence into the power of
generativity.  They receive ‘badhai’,
traditional gifts of cash and goods as payment.

Hijra community is also referred to as ‘hijra jamaat’. They function like a
community organized around a traditional occupation. Hijra jamaat  follows a hierarchical system. Within the
community they have traditional roles and cultural norms. The census of India
doesn’y count Hijras separately.  So it
is difficult to make reliable estimates of their numbers.  The most common unofficial figure cited is 50,
000 nationwide (Nanda, 38). Hijras live predominantly in the cities of North
India  where they find the greatest
opportunity to perform in their traditional roles. Small groups of  hijras are found all over India, in the south
as well as North.

            Hijras usually live as a group.
Every hijra will have a guru when they join the community. The hijra household
is organized as a commune. The members contribute all part or a part of their
earnings to the households. In return they get a shelter and a ‘family’ which
shares their conditions and feelings. They carry on with their business-
begging, performing or prostitution. Hijras are also divided into houses,
‘gharanas’. (They may be thought of as symbolic descent groups like clans
whereas households are communal living groups). Each house within a region has
a leader called Naik and it is the leader of the houses in a region who get
together nationally from time to time to decide policies for the Hijras in
India as a whole to celebrate some events of national significance to them such
as the death anniversary of a famous hijra leader. The Naik is the head of the
gharana who is the primary decision maker and policy maker of the hijra
community.  There are many gurus who have
many chelas under them. This tree spreads and there is a web of chelas, nati
chelas( grand daughters) under the same house. Within the Hijra jammat system,
the guru is the guardian of her chela. Chelas earn and give full or partial
amount of their earnings to their respective guru. The guru has the right to
keep the entire amount. In return the guru provides food, clothing and shelter
to the chela. Young hijras get moral and emotional support from the community.
Because of their feminine identity, hijras follow matrilineal relationship like
sister, aunt, niece, grandmother, granddaughter etc. amongst themselves. (Nanda
1996; Lal 1999; Toumey 2008). Marriages occur among Hijra-Kothi communes .
There are hijras who lead a family life being lovable companions.  Emasculation is the major source of ritual
power of the Hijras. ” It is the source of their uniqueness and the most
authentic way of identifying oneself as a hijra and of being so identified by
the larger society(Nanda, 24).  The
emasculation operation called nirvan links the hijras to two of the most
powerful figures in the Hindu religion, Shiva and the Mother Goddess, and it is
the emasculation that sanctions the hijras’ ritual role as performers at
marriages and births. Nirvan, as the word suggests is the rebirth of a hijra
where impotent male person dies and a new person endowed with sacred powers is
reborn. Emasculation operation is performed by a hijra called dai ma(midwife).
She has no medical training and the hijras believe that she operates with the
power of Mata so that the result is not in her hands. Nowadays these operations
are carried out by doctors in the hospitals though there are legal barriers

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