On November 11, the cabinet passed a law which declared hijras a separate gender. Hijras, a formal term that will be used to address them, will be given similar rights as any other man or woman residing in the country, in terms of education, job facilities, housing and health.
This decision of the government was passed days before their term was about to end, and one worth appreciating. At present, there are 10,000 hijras living in Bangladesh. They already have voting rights, now they can get passports as well.
Humans, as a species, refrain from accepting anything or anyone outside their comfort zone, astray from what is defined as “normal.” We tend to stick to the obvious and don’t voice out our opinions even if we do not agree with the majority.
Like transvestites, lesbians, gays, etc, hijras are another entity that are condoned by most, and as such, live a half-life without acceptance, and without self-respect. Hijras are treated as objects of ridicule or sometimes looked at with fear.
They usually earn a living by performing in auspicious occasions at people’s houses, but with the advent of technology, this is also a dying phenomenon. As such, prostitution amongst hijras has been on the rise.
The death of a hijra also proves to be a difficult situation, as up until now, they have not been given proper rights. As they did not belong to either the male or female gender, burial ceremonies became cumbersome.
There is a lot of confusion centring the term “hijra” itself. While some are born this way, others (who may be impotent) emasculate themselves, meaning they cut off their genitals through a ceremony, which according to them emancipates them.
In most cases, they are sent away from their homes right after birth, and receive no formal education. As such, they earn a living by harassing people in various ways and collecting money from them, formerly known as “chadabaji,” along with prostitution.
While we complain about the rough behavior of hijras and their constant pestering, do we at all take notice of the hardships they go through in their lifetime? Can we begin to understand what life must be like for them?
If not properly educated, how can we expect them to earn a decent income any other way? Have we ever offered them jobs or made any other effort to help them? This group is one that is rejected firstly by their parents who give birth to them, and then by the entire society.
Consequently, they have no one other than those like them to rely on. Furthermore, they do not even have properly functioning sexual organs. Can one imagine a more painful life than this, and more importantly, are they truly to blame for their condition?
While some lack the capacity to understand why hijras have been given a separate gender, (saying that they possess men’s bodies and female characteristics, which does not make them a separate gender), others have argued that this law only encompasses transsexual people and not transgender.
To the former group, I can only say that they need to do some more research before passing swathing comments. The latter group although has a point, but needs to appreciate this move and not criticise the government at every opportunity they get.
For us as a nation, perhaps we need to be more accommodating to change, to break free of conventional thinking, and actually work to establish equality for all. What can be the next big step then?
For Bangladesh, it could definitely be accepting and addressing the rights of the LGBT community (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) , groups whose presence are completely ignored. Not just that, we also need to be sensitive to them, teach others to do the same and accept them in our community.
In an interview in one of the leading TV channels, a journalist asked a few hijras what gender they would want to be born as in their next lifetime. One of them said male, the other said female, while another said male or female, but not something in between.
Let’s stand up together and make them feel like a part of our world, so that they too can become first class citizens of Bangladesh and not struggle constantly for mere survival. Surely this is not too hard to achieve?