Indian Paradox of the Third Gender

Indian Paradox of the Third Gender Feature Image

Third gender or third sex is commonly used to categorize individuals, as neither man nor women, either by themselves or by society. The third gender could also be understood as a social category that is prevailing in society to give the identity status to genders that are beyond the closed box understanding of male and female characters. Gender experts have described the third gender as “other” and “some” genders also they have categorized them in “fourth” and “fifth” form. 

The third gender is the most disempowered and deprived gender, they always face major discrimination and delinquency in our society and usually the third gender is out of the mainstream gender discourse. 

The Census of 2011 shows that in India, the majority of beggars, sex workers and eunuchs were included and figured under the classification “Others” which certainly means the third gender. This classification of the “other” gender gave impetus to the movement that demanded equal opportunities for the third gender, especially in education and employment.

In India, the categorization of the third gender was a tough task because terms like ‘transgender’ don’t work for India’s ‘third-gender’ communities. 

According to Indian history, traditionally hijras were employed by rulers both Hindu and Muslim as singers and dancers, also they were and are, seen as agents of fertility and attend occasions to give the blessing in return of payment. Hijras are an inclusive part of the Indian society and so they also enjoy a high understanding among other people about them. In India, it’s hard to imagine an ending of a special occasion without them. 

If we look closer to the stratification of Indian society then it’s very clear that earlier people were open to all types of gender identities and accepted them as an integral part of society.

Then in 1871, the British colonial government in India passed a very terrible law that criminalized the entire sections of society that included hijras and the third gender. The British government in India started arresting and killing them on the spot. From there the degradation in the condition of hijras and the third gender started in India. It is the colonial British government who has to be pointed out for being ignorant towards the degrading condition of the third gender.

The impact of this law was so furious and unjust that even after the post-colonial period of India, the identity crisis of hijras were never solved and it became common to see them begging on trains and footpaths. Just to fill their empty stomach many hijras got involved in the prostitution and so many got infected to HIV. The rate of HIV infection among hijras is more than a hundred times the national average. 

Hijras occupies a special place in Hinduism, the evidence is very relevant and so many hijras are part of religious activities in India. In Ramayana, when Rama leaves Ayodhya for his 14-year exile, a crowd of his subjects follow him into the forest because of their devotion to him. Soon Rama notices this, and gathers them to tell them not to mourn, and that all the “men and women” of his kingdom should return to their places in Ayodhya.

Rama then leaves and has adventures for 14 years. When he returns to Ayodhya, he finds that the hijras, being neither men nor women, have not moved from the place where he gave his speech. Impressed with their devotion, Rama grants hijras the boon to confer blessings on people during auspicious inaugural occasions like childbirth and weddings. This boon is the origin of badhai in which hijras sing, dance, and give blessings.

From Ramayana period to modern India the journey of hijra’s identity and status have been very painful. As per the recent estimates India has about two million, transgender people. The term hijra is commonly used in India to describe transgender people, transsexual, cross-dressers, eunuchs and transvestites. 

The hijra community lives on the fringes of society, just because of their crisis of gender identity, they are found often in poverty. They make a living by singing and dancing or by begging and prostitution; Sometimes hospitals refuse to admit them. In the public sphere, hijras are forced to choose either male or female as their gender identity. 

Justice KS Radhakrishnan, who headed the two-judge Supreme Court bench, said that recognition of transgender as a third gender is a basic human right issue, transgenders are also a citizen of India and they must be provided equal opportunity to grow. The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.

The government was asked by judges to treat the third gender in the official category of minorities as “socially and economically backwards” and to provide them quotas in job and education. They also got facilities in hospitals including separate wards and separate public washrooms. 

From 2014 onwards the third gender is enjoying equal opportunity in employment and education but the transformation of Indian society’s gender mainstream still has to go a long way before it achieves the status of a gender-inclusive and gender-equal society.

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45 thoughts on “Indian Paradox of the Third Gender

  1. vikash paliwal

    Very informative article by Aarya Ma’am, your thoughts towards the third gender and hijras are showing your keen observation to our society 🙏🙏

  2. Tashi Yangzom

    All the issues from where it started and to where it concluded, you didn’t left anything. You wrote all those impkrtant things that people needed to know. Thank you for such a beautiful work.

  3. Snehil Srivastava

    Very informative and well written Arya! However, it sounded a bit assumptious in the part where the gender identity of the officially recognized third gender is called a ‘crisis’. It’s only a crisis if we see it through a conventional lens. It brings us back to the debate of what is normal. We must ask ourselves how natural is our ‘normal’? Also, back to the theory of ‘self’ and the ‘other’, where the ‘other’ is alien, exotic, difficult to understand. As far as we consider marginalized as ‘other’, it would be difficult to truly understand the real issues. Just my opinion. Otherwise, this piece is important and excellently presented. Cheers!

  4. Roopak Bastawadi

    The problem is very serious one and we the people need to start accepting people. That is hw we can resolve this.

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