The hijras in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh represent a terribly marginalized minority community, to the extent that they are even ignored by human rights activists. In this book, the author argues that their situation can be compared with that of transsexuals in the west, both in terms of the psycho-social compulsions faced by a man who voluntarily decides to become a hijra or alternately a male to female transsexual as well as in terms of the complications regarding marriage, adoption and sexual status. In this book, the author has made a unique comparative study of the human rights abuses and legal problems faced by members of the ?third sex? in the West and India. Relevant and important documents, not available elsewhere, concerning sexual minorities have also been included in the annexures, such as the petition filed by the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (AIDS anti Discrimination Movement) challenging the criminalization of homosexuality, together with relevant extracts from international human rights treaties. This book is essential reading for human rights activists, social scientists, those connected with the law and the concerned citizen.
Rajesh gives an overview of the book:
Many people in India believe that the hijra community regularly checks up on births that have recently taken place and even visit hospitals in search of children who are born intersexed and if they come across such a child they take it away forcibly, and in earlier times even had a legal right to do so. However Nanda during her extensive research within the community found no evidence to support such an impression, as all the hijras she met had joined the community voluntarily. On the other hand, Sharma who undertook a similar research within the community mentions ‘Case 11' who was born intersexed, but whose parents regularly ‘paid off’ a local hijra in order to keep the child. He also mentions another case, ‘Case 17' whose brother, out of jealousy, informed the hijras about him, who then came and took him away against his wishes and those of his parents. On the whole, the extensive research carried out by Nanda and Sharma reveals that it is extremely rare that a child is taken away forcibly by the hijra community against the wishes of the parents. Such an act, if it did take place, would be illegal and punishable under the law as it exists. Section 361 of the Indian Penal Code provides that ‘whoever takes or entices any minor under sixteen years of age if a male, or under eighteen years of age if a female or any person of unsound mind out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such minor or person of unsound mind, without the consent of such guardian is said to kidnap such minor or person from lawful guardianship.’ Despite the existence of this provision, it may be that in some exceptional case as happened in the case of case 17 mentioned above, that a family may give away a child in ignorance of the legal provisions in this regard. Possibly in earlier centuries this may have been a custom, but in the light of Section 361, it cannot be said to have any continuing validity.
Case 17'`s case took place decades earlier and there is now growing awareness that corrective surgery can be applied to remove ‘abnormalities’ present in hermaphroditism, even though it is equally true that the poorest sections of society may not be able to afford sophisticated medical intervention. FORCIBLE CASTRATION - DOES IT HAPPEN? The other, still more serious allegation that is sometimes levelled against the hijra community is that normal male children are kidnapped by members of the community and forcibly castrated. It is commonplace knowledge in India, that children are kidnapped and then maimed by adults, so that they can be used to beg. It is one of the sad truths about violence in Indian society. It is argued by some people (purely on the basis of their imagination) that hijras too kidnap male minors and turn them into hijras by forcibly castrating them. Such a theory reveals itself to be perverse even on prima facie examination because the hijras are never accompanied by children during their singing and dancing sessions. The theorist will then argue that children are kidnapped and kept inside houses. In other words the hijra community makes an investment of sorts. They wait ten,fifteen years for ‘the lamb to be fattened’ ie the child to turn mature and then reap the profits! Such fanciful ideas are scarcely believable given that it would be impossible for hijras to spirit away children in the small jhuggis many of them live in. Moreover, despite the fact that the community is cut off from mainstream society, a dozen investigative journalists would have exploded such an issue decades earlier!
Serena Nanda, supra note ,at xxiv Sharma, Satish K, ‘Hijras : The labelled deviants’, (Gian Publishing Company, New Delhi, 19 ) at 67 Ibid ; at 71 VS Naipaul, ‘An Area of Darkness’, (Penguin Books, 19 ) at
Rajesh Talwar is mainly a writer. He has practised law for many years, taught at University and worked for the United Nations in Somalia, Liberia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Timor-Leste. He writes fiction (novels, plays, children's books) and well as non fiction (human...