I saw her walk across the road swaying her hips. She was dressed in a black sari that seemed to shimmer in the morning sun. As she approached my car, I pulled down my window and for a brief moment, my eyes met hers. And at that very moment, amidst the constant honking on the roads, her eyes spoke volumes…
On a busy working day, I sat in my vehicle waiting for the signal to turn green. It would be a long wait- the timing system at the signal indicated 90 seconds. I was on one of Delhi’s busiest roads near Tihar Jail, a mere 12 kilometers away from the seat of power-the Indian Parliament house, when I spotted her across the road. There were a group of them in fact. As the traffic came to a halt at the signal, they swarmed around vehicles, tapping on windows, clapping their hands to be heard.
A generous couple in a swanky car pushed a ten Rupee note out of the window and quickly rolled it up, ‘lest they make any contact with their kind. A few others, whose windows were rolled down, pulled it up all too soon, and turned their faces away as though they were lost in deeper thoughts. The ones who seemed to be the most harassed were those on two wheelers and auto rickshaws. It was difficult to brush them away, until you had parted with a currency note or two.
She tapped at my window, and I rolled it down when our eyes met. I found her pleasant to look at, despite the thick coating of face powder and the extra dark red lipstick she had on. A strong whiff of perfume caught my nose, and I briefly felt dizzy. I dug into my bag to pull out a Rupee ten note. As I handed it over to her, she placed her hands on my head, blessing me with happiness in abundance. It was a brief moment of joy- for me as well as for her.
“Why don’t you find yourself a job?” I asked her. “You are young and seem capable”.
Instantly she shot back, “Would you employ me? No one wants to give our kind a job”.
Image for Representation Purpose Only. Source: BBC.com
I stared at her stunned. I had no answer. The signal turned to green and as I drove away, I saw her walk to the other side of the road to those of “her kind”.
The word “Transgender” is a sort of an umbrella term that encompasses anyone whose gender identity does not fully match their assigned birth sex. This broad category includes transsexuals and cross -dressers too. But for centuries in India, all these terms with its subtle distinctions, have been brought under one broad category- called “Hijra”. The community is often treated as criminals, subject to discrimination and sexual abuse. You would often find them in poverty- well, not often do people want to see them or have anything to do with them. This is what we all know of them, right?
But, what you don’t know is that historically the community has had a fairly decent dignity in mainstream society. If you look at the medieval ages, you have references where transgender have been queens. Go back a thousand odd years, and the great epics such as the Mahabharata have references to the community. There are mythological tales of how Gods would change their gender. The Vedas and Puraanas too speak of the third gender characters. They were considered to be a good luck charm. However, things slowly changed and, took its present day distorted form, during the British colonial period.
And almost a hundred years later, on April 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of India handed down a landmark ruling, recognizing them as the third gender of the country. This decision granted India’s transgender the right to self-identity.
Though a big step, there is still a long way to go in restoring the dignity of the “Third Gender”. They are still stigmatized by mainstream society and are often denied the basic fundamental rights- of education and employment. There is even a certain element of hesitance to rent a home out to the Third Gender as the tenant.
Until we begin to accept them as part of us, no law would give them the dignity they need the most. Till then, you would just spot them at your car window, as they clap their hands, demanding your attention.