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The Role of Hijras in Indian Society: Exploring their Presence, Beliefs, and Controversial Involvement

Feb 9, 2024 | 0 comments

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Feb 9, 2024 | Essays | 0 comments

Hijras, also known as the third gender, have been a significant presence in Indian society for centuries. While they have long held a marginalized and stigmatized position in mainstream society, hijras have also been revered in certain cultural and religious contexts. Their role in Indian society is multifaceted and complex, as they are often simultaneously celebrated and discriminated against.
In this essay, we will delve into the role of hijras in Indian society, exploring their social, religious, and cultural significance. We will examine their presence in various cultural and historical contexts, as well as the beliefs and traditions that surround hijras in India. Additionally, we will shed light on the controversial involvement of hijras in certain aspects of Indian society, such as their involvement in certain religious ceremonies and their often marginalized status in mainstream society.
By exploring these aspects of hijra culture and identity, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of their place in Indian society and challenge prevailing stereotypes and prejudices.

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Hijras are people who are neither male nor female; this is done by cutting off their penis and testicles. They are always born with male genitals and are cut off once identified that they cannot function sexually. They are also known as the other gender. In India, the Hijras are not considered crazy or in need of therapy because, according to them, they are a blessed community. During the Ramayana period, before Ram went to Srilanka for his wife, his father asked him to leave his native city into the forest, and the whole city followed him out of love. When he asked the people to go away, neither male nor female did not go since they perceived that Rama was not referring to them. When Ram returned from Sri Lanka, he found them there after 14 years and blessed them. From this myth, the hijra community is highly respected people in India.


Many might confuse them with homosexuality, but in North India, the men who play the effeminate role in a homosexual relationship are known as zenana. The hijras are different from the homosexual because they don’t have the same desires as men, the desire to get married and have a family. Though the hijras don’t represent either of the genders, they put on female dresses. As narrated by a hijra elder, the main reason for becoming a hijra is being impotent. The majority are discovered at a young age by their dress and behavior. Once initiated into the community, the hijra acquires female names and identities. Several hijras were born female but did not fully develop the secondary female characteristics and transformed their gender role into hijra. The hijra also believes that one of their founders was a woman who did not menstruate (Nanda 15).


The hijras have a positive role to play in Indian society. Though unable to conceive, they can confer blessings of reproduction and fertility to other people. They are always present during childbirth and marriage to give their blessings. They are believed to get their powers through their ritual sacrifices and devotion to the Mother Goddess (Nanda 30-33)


The community of hijra is controlled by a hierarchy of gurus, teachers, and chelas, the disciples—the chelas vow to obey the guru and the community rules. For new members to be initiated and belong to a spiritual family under a guru, a sum of 150 rupees has to be paid to the guru. The guru control where the hijras work; working in a territory without permission will lead to a fine or being physically assaulted (Nanda 43).


Once a child is born in a particular neighborhood or if there is a wedding, a group of hijra goes to perform songs, dances, and clowning. There are always fixed payments for the performances depending on the family’s social class. They are always offered money and goods. The hijras normally go to the extent of shaming the family and ruining the party if their pay demands are unmet (Nanda 49). For example, if angered by the host, they would utter abusive words and indecently expose themselves until they are paid.


They also ask for alms from people on the streets; under a local guru’s control, the group collects money from shopkeepers in the city. They agree with the shopkeeper on a certain amount weekly or monthly, and the shopkeepers comply to avoid harassment. They are sometimes asked for a higher amount during the festive season. The authority can do nothing about this because the states of India officially gave the hijras rights.


The majority of the hijras engage in prostitution to earn a living. Though it is against their spiritual beliefs, the ones involved claim that it is the only source of livelihood and that it pays well. Despite being a well-paying source of income, most of them do not live well because most of the money they earn is taken by the gurus or house elders. A good example is the life of Kamladevi as a prostitute. She claims that her life is troublesome and that she earns quite some money, but she does not have any wealth(Nanda 58).
The hijras believe that gender roles depend on a child’s upbringing. Some of them are brought up as men and take up the roles of men in society but once initiated into a hijra, they consider themselves neither men nor women. Some take up the role of a woman.

As much as they adopt female behavior by dressing and other female physical characteristics, they mostly engage in male occupations such as delivering milk on a bike, construction and being electricians, which are perceived as male jobs. However, hijras take up jobs for both men and women, such as being servants and cooks. Those born females live female life for the early years, but their real gender is discovered once they don’t become women fully; for example, Salima felt like a girl but ended up being a hijra.
The gender roles in Nisa are specified for men and women and cannot relate to Nanda. In Nisa, men are known to dominate the public sector while women are in the domestic one. In the! Kung women’s role is to give birth to children while men hunt and provide for their families. In terms of power and authority, men had more power over their women, and they were expected to follow their men’s orders. This clearly shows that in! Kung men and women had specific roles in society.


Work Cited
Nanda, Serena. 1999. *Neither Man nor Woman. *Wadsworth Publishing Company. Text. Canada. December 11, 2016.
Shostak, Marjorie. 1945. *Nisa, The Life and Words of a ! Kung Woman. *Fifth Printing. Text. December 11, 2016.

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