The Hijras

5 May 2016

In this paper, I explore the culture of the Hijras to learn how an outcast group that is looked down up on still has its role in traditional society. The Hijras are a transgender social group who are located amongst southern and mid-eastern Asia.

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They are a group of males who portray themselves as females in society and survive by engaging in begging and prostitution. They are also considered performers for special occasions in different societies. This group focuses on beliefs that are different from the beliefs of many other India cultures.

Gender does not play a big role in their culture because they believe that there is no such thing as man or woman. Religion plays a major role in the construction of the Hijras, and it is one of the main reasons they still play a role in South Asian society. Even though they are looked down up on through out society, the Hijras are just one of many marginal groups in society that have unique social roles, and play a part in tradition society.

The Hijras acceptance with their feminine side makes them stand out from the rest of the social groups. The ancestors of past generations offered unique beliefs that set up the modern societies for the Hijras belief.

The concept of making their ancestors proud carried on through our generations and it one of their religious beliefs. It was nothing but tradition that led the Hijras to making the decisions they did, and decisions that changed their views up on society. This was just a prime example of following tradition and sticking to the beliefs of their ancestors. Religion was one of the things that led them to their beliefs of gender.

Religion plays a major role in the construction of the Hijras. Most Hijras are of Hindu faith. Their beliefs from the Hindu faith are that sex is the key to everything. Having sex was like a blessing to the Hijras. The Kama Sutras are an example of third nature, which is similar to the Hijras. These beliefs through out the Hindus society shows the their views of homosexuality was normal.

The Hindu belief led to many dual-gendered figures. The Hijras believed that dual gender figures were more powerful than other identifications. They do not classify themselves as men or women, but a third-gender. They are also referred to as eunuchs, which means castrated men. They believe if they do not go through the castration process they are worthless, useless, or they don’t exist to society.

Once they go through this procedure they are considered “True” Hijras. This operation is important because it gives they honorary right to be called a woman, or miss, or misses. This is a great achievement upon them because it makes them feel as if they’ve done something generation and generation have done before them. It makes them feel as if they are a part of a cult almost. Getting the recognition of becoming a Hijra does not come easy. There are many rituals and ceremonies that have to be performed before one becomes a true Hijra.

Different tribes of HIjra groups, depending on their geographical location have different rituals. All of them however have a goal of making the ritual be “weird” to society. One of the rituals they perform is castration. This ritual is considered where the Hijra is reborn. This ritual is widely being spread through out India. In castration, the men are stripped of all their masculine traits.

During the ritual, they are looked upon by elder Hijras as the upcoming generation. These young men are usually of the age of 10-14. They prepare this ritual as if it were a wedding. They have to make sure it’s the right time of year, climate, and day. The Hijras are more concerned about being recognized for what they do, rather than what they are. The importance of these tribes are very valuable to society even though most other cultural groups say otherwise.

The data I conducted from the ethnography, which was “Neither man nor woman: The Hijras of India,” by Serena Nanda, was taken from a first hand point of view, which let me explore the culture more accurately than I ever imagined. The ethnography shared lives of Hijras and how they spent their daily lives. It shared their opinions on how they felt they were benefiting society, and how they adapted to society.

Nanda used the observation and participant observation technique the most through out the essay because the main data for the research was coming from actual Hijras he met in India. Conversation is also a technique used, and also interviews. She was able to get questions answered from different Hijras, which also answered some of my questions I had on the Hijras.

The main topic that was my concern was the role of marginal groups as the Hijras in societies today, and how they are portrayed through out Western Civilization, and even amongst their own societies. They are accepted by some, but are a social disturbance to most.

As much as people want them to go away in their societies, they still manage to play a role in tradition society. They play roles in the celebration and entertainment of societies. It is more than being defined as a third gender, but as being recognized as a wonder group who made a difference in the world.

The Hijras would show up to weddings, days of birth of a newborn, parties uninvited, or unannounced and blessing the people there by singing, dancing, and even drumming. They would sing poems that they wrote, and performs different religious dances. This gathering is not a celebration for the Hijras though. They are there to be recognized as a tribe within society.

This is a way for them to share their beliefs with everyone, and let everyone see what they stand for. They also engage in these activities to show they mean no harm to society, and want to be known for good things rather than the sexual activates they engage. In return for showing up to these occasions and performing, the Hijras would ask for money from the audience, or anyone at the occasion.

Another major role in society is when there is a marriage in the community. When Hijras find out there is a marriage ceremony being held, they will come to the grooms family and arrange a performance and day or two after. The performance is timed when the bride, groom, and their neighbors, friends, and family can join them at their home. The more audience, the more the Hijras would get in payment.

The reason for the performance is to bless the couple getting married, and bless for a healthy fertility. If the bride asks them to bless them with a son it is more work for them, but it also means they will have a chance to perform again when the son is born. In the songs they sing, they include lines that encourage the thought of them having a son. In some celebrations, because of tradition, they are required to have Hijras attend, and do the same dances, and blessings they do every year. In example, some families have to make sure “real” Hijras come to their events and celebrations to ensure good luck, and for religious reasons.

It would seem bad to have Hijras, who are emasculated men, who base their beliefs around sex, around a new born son, or a new born baby of any gender. But most people, who pay Hijras to perform at their celebrations, don’t think of Hijras that way at all. They are seen as vehicles of the divine power of Mother Goddess. They check the genitals of the infant and try to influence that this infant could be inter-sexed, which means neither man nor woman.

The Hindu religion is very open to Hijras because Hijras are mainly Hindu and most of their audience is connected to them through religion. They even see them as higher figures that are closer to god. When marriages in the Hindu family are taking place, Hijras demand to perform and threaten to show up uninvited.

Some Hindu families must have Hijras attend and perform to ensure a successful marriage. And in the Hindu culture, it works both ways because Hijras can bless an event, or family but can also curse and wish bad things up on them. Most Hindu families don’t act rudely towards them and are more open because they don’t want any curse places up on them or their family.

The Hijras don’t just roam the areas of India; they play a role in many societies. Some people can’t stand their existence due to the fact that they modified their genitals but they are a harmless social group, who are religiously dedicated as we are.

Their religion is what connects them with their society. They are beggars and prostitutes but even our culture as people we are not proud to include within. Serena Nanda was open-minded as she researched the Hijras and saw them to be just an outcast social group who mean well to other families. They have their place in society, and it encourages other social groups to not care what anyone says and to stick to what they believe in, which is exactly what the Hijras demonstrate.

Citation List

Patel, Amisha
2010 India’s Hijras: The Case For Transgender Rights” 42(4):853-863

Serena Nanda
1999 Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India. John Jay College of Criminal Justice. University of New York.

Morris, Opler
1961 Further Comparative Notes on the Hijras of India. American Anthropologist. 63(6): 1331-1332

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