“Aye chikne chal jeb dheeli kar”, I heard someone saying, along with a pat on my back. Turning around I saw what our society refers to as ‘Hijras’ standing next to me. I was taken aback for a second. I had no clue how to react. This was my first actual encounter with a eunuch. Standing at a signal near Cannaught place, I was cornered by 4 transgender people completely out of the blue.
I took out my wallet to give them a 10 rupee note and get out of that situation as fast as possible. To my dismay, I was out of change so I tried to wave them away by casually saying, “Mere paas chutta nai hai, aage badho.” I had no idea what to expect in reply.
They were definitely not in a mood to let go off. The one eunuch who looked the least interested initially, snapped back right at me in a deep, grumpy voice, “Tu de na re 100 ka note, mai dungi na tujhe chutta.” I think I was having a brain freeze kind of situation going on at that moment. Without even thinking I gave them a 100 rupee note, expecting change in return. One of them took the money, they exchanged a quick smile and started leaving. I shouted, “Mere paise?” The reply was, “Agli baar milungi to le lena.”
I said to myself, “What is that supposed to mean?” But I didn’t have the courage to ask again. I was left stone dead as I saw them walking away.
Though I was just 16 at that time, and it was a completely new situation for me, why did it come as such a bewildering experience? I mean, it was not that I was not aware of the transgender society. I had full idea of their existence, I had seen them on television, read about them in newspapers and even witnessed them on few occasions in real life.
In spite of all this knowledge why was I bummed when this happened to me?
They work as prostitutes. They beg on traffic signals. They go to homes and demand money for no reason whenever a child is born or a marriage is on the cards. So they got to be bad people, right?
No, they are not.
Being a part of a minority is the last thing you want to be in our excruciating Indian society. When the minority I am referring to is a transgender, the going gets all the more difficult. In general all what you and I care about is our wealth, our comfort, and our happiness. That is why it pinches when we have to give out money when a transgender claps right at your face.
Is it entirely their fault that they have to beg on the streets for their survival? Majority of the people will say yes in unison but I don’t really think so. If this question would have been asked to me at the point when this incident happened then probably I would have also said yes, and that is shameful but not now.
Let me give you a very simple analogy. If you are not been given food for 6 days and after those six days, rotten meal is kept in front of you. You can either eat that and survive or die out of starvation, what will you do? You will definitely end up eating that old, stinky food; no matter how much you hate it. That is exactly the case with eunuchs in India or the entire sub continent for that matter. We have given them nothing but filth to survive on.
There was a time during the 1880s when the British passed a law that ‘hijras’ are equivalent to criminals and they will be treated as same. If you take that as a parameter, then I guess, it’s okay to say that the government is at least doing something beneficial for this community by putting them under the category of ‘third gender’ and giving them separate space. But is it enough? Definitely not, though they are free to roam around in our so called ‘decent society’ but in terms of status, its zero. What we have done is, given them the permission to enter a huge mansion with hundreds of rooms. After that we have locked all the doors and then very politely said, feel free to go wherever you want.
If as a responsible citizen of the society I am not ready to accept having eunuchs living and working around me then who am I to question when I see them in extremely degraded condition? I know very few will accept this but it’s our job to create space for these transgender people. We talk so much about LGBT rights and Section 377 then why can’t we accept them to be a part of our respectable society?
It’s not that these eunuchs were born just yesterday, various mythologies, epics and puranas have been a testimony to their subsistence. They are also said to be a part of Kama Sutra and Mahabharata. My point is, when the society could accept them at that period of time then why can’t we do it now. Many would argue that even in those times they were being discriminated but with what I observe now, I can’t imagine the situation being any worse.
Just try to imagine the condition of these eunuchs. Most of them are castrated. They have lived in the worst of conditions. Being subjected to harassment and abuse is not a new thing for them. At some of their life they have worked as prostitutes. A disease like HIV is not enough to give them a shock. All they have is a guru who looks after them and provides them with financial as well as emotional security. That’s all they have. My gut wrenches when I try to think of the backdrop of a bunch of eunuchs happily singing and dancing at a wedding. There is so much behind that uncanny laughter, so many painful stories in those bright eyes, it makes me wonder, are they not humans, don’t they deserve one chance to live at peace with us.
Transgender people have had their moment of success. In Bihar eunuchs were once given a chance to become tax collectors. A transgender named Bindiya Rana stood for provincial elections in Pakistan a few years back. There are these rays of hope but the problem is that they are too few and far between. We need more stories like these if want the upliftment of this section and that can only happen if we are ready to do our bit.
There are several NGOs which are fighting for the rights of these people but it’s just not enough. People like you and me have to change our mindset, we have to stop being judgmental all the time. Try to think why a eunuch is begging at traffic signals rather than cursing and moving on. Why are they being alienated in our society, yes they are different but does that take away their right to have a peaceful life.
We don’t know what has led them to this lifestyle, it can be by choice or by force but we know one thing, they are humans and they need a better standard of living than what they have now. Today when I recall that incident which happened few years back with me, I understand how stupid and shameful it was for me to think like that. It’s time for all of us to realize how insensitive we have been towards them and change this attitude.