We were waiting anxiously at the petrol pump for Sabina and Neelima, a couple of eunuchs amongst the many we see on the streets of our city and shrug our shoulders at. They were nervous, and a bit skeptical wondering why would a few college students want to chat with them, and know more about them. After exchanging pleasantries, we moved to the chai shop to talk more. ***
Most of us are scared of eunuchs, avoid looking at them and pretend as if they don’t exist, but born to a family of 2 brothers and a sister in the South of India, Neelima feels the other way around. She is scared of the society consisting of ‘men’ and ‘women’ only, which leaves no place for eunuchs like her. She was born looking like a male child and grew up as one till she was 10 years old and later started dressing in girls clothes. People who knew her family referred to her as “the other sister” (a term meaning a eunuch in local language). On knowing what they meant, she left her family and came to Mumbai, to live with others like her, other eunuchs. Sabina the one who was prettier was even more talkative, and went on to say how glad she feels when sometimes some noble souls call them to dance and bless the occasion, either a marriage or the birth of a child and similar occasions. “Dil se di huyi koyi bhi dua ho ya badua ya koyi aashirwad, hamesha sach hoti hai”, says Sabina. People believe a hijra’s curse always comes true, but going by Sabina’s words even a hijra’s blessing would come true.
Quite a few of the hijra’s are educated, and not just literates, speak good English and look good too. That many of them are transgender, transsexual or cross dressers stop people from treating them no less than inhumane. “Give us work and help us lead a decent life”, cry the hijras. Though there are some hijras who sell flowers, sit in the fish market etc, not all of them find work. Most of them are forced to take to begging at signals or at crowded places. Neelima says they have the money, which can be used as an initial investment for any small kind of work, but she knows no one would want to work with them. After all who would want to work with the eunuchs, be seen with them or be cursed by them?
Neelima and Sabina, a couple amongst the many, wait for people to accept them and pray that no one ever takes birth as a eunuch. During the funeral procession of a hijra, the body is sometimes beaten with a chappal, to hit the soul, asking it to never take birth again as a hijra. The eunuchs themselves believe it is a curse to have been born in this way, but I hope that this does not make us, who are fortunate enough to have clearer sexual identities, disregard them.
* ‘Hijras’ in India are typically born as males who dress up as women. Also known in English as ‘Eunuchs’ or ‘Hermaphrodites’ ** Names changed *** They refused to let us pay for the chai, insisiting on paying it for it themselves.