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Gender Agenda

Every year, every month, every day, every second a child is born who stares at a world that cares little. It’s born with dual identity, which is callously termed as “no identity”. The child is born not to be a girl or a boy, but a eunuch. The child born usually turns out to be a shame to the parents as per the diktat of society. A medical word, ambiguous genetalia makes their being ‘ambiguous’. Yes, it’s not their fault. They are born that way. Some are forcibly or voluntarily castrated. But where do they end after this? Being a eunuch lands one up in a paradox. The status is a double-edged sword. They are basking in freedom as no government census has any data about their population and about them. No rule or law binds them. At the same time their rootless existence poses a great challenge, for it deprives them of basic human rights and government amenities. They are not ‘recognised’ anywhere and their sexuality is termed as no sexuality at all. Is there a solution? Providing them the status of third gender, perhaps? Well, that comes much later… What stares at us at present is our ignorance about them. Busy buzzing railway station of Baruipur (West Bengal)… Dingy lanes with cavernous small shops of cheap cosmetics, bentex jewellery and leather bags… Maze of muddy roads lead you to one place, the auto stand. Destination: Khasmolla of Mallickpur. Khasmolla, as the name suggests, is ‘khas’, the colony is special indeed as it’s the forbidden eunuch colony of Baruipur, South 24-Parganas. Winding streets take you to the place where scores of eunuch houses stand undaunted. Their source of livelihood, as everywhere, is going from house to house looking for a new born on whom they can confer their blessings and get some money in return. Another source of their livelihood is the train line joining Baruipur to Sealdah in Kolkata. They commute regularly and collect money from passengers. The distance and duration definitely has to be decided by somebody. That somebody is the mashi (the head) of the clan who regulates the working and co-ordinates the eunuchs of the area. Their well established office near the station is a full-fledged workhouse where people come to deposit money if there is any occasion in the family. “I came here to give money because if they had come to my house they would have taken much more…,” said Benimadhab Das of an adjacent residential colony. An acquaintance of mine, who stayed on the other side of the station, took me to a house. Rumi (name changed), one of the most respected eunuchs of the locality, was known for her candidness and friendship with the local people. Rumi was not at home since it was her duty hour. Rumi’s sister (as she called herself) was an elderly eunuch. Assuming the reason of my presence, she said: “I don’t know who my parents are… I don’t remember them. I was nine-years-old when they brought me here. There is nothing you can do to change my life… Then why should I waste my time crying in front of you?” She also said: “You are a girl, you’ll marry. You will have a husband who will love you. You will give birth to a new life… I have nothing. I will dance and sing and will keep doing this till death.” On asking what she would like to be if given another life, she said: “I would rather be a hijra than be a man or a woman. We are kinnads. We are given the power to bless. We are not abnormal. We have been there from time immemorial. We were there in Mahabharata as Shikhandi…” After Rumi returned home, it was known that she has adopted (completing all legal formalities) a male child. His biological parents had nothing to feed him and so they had given him away to Rumi, who had always wanted to adopt a child. ‘So what if I cannot be a mother (biologically)? Ahmad has made me his mother… But being as I am, my only concern is how I can give Ahmad the education he is worthy of?” Rumi is not the only one who has taken such a step at the cost of her relationship with other eunuchs in the community, the mashi and even her livelihood. Many such eunuchs, countrywide, have been nurturing “unwanted” children who were left to die on streets by their biological parents. They mother the child trying hard to give them proper education and a decent living. The media has made matter worse by projecting them as a dark and sinister group of people with criminal instinct, eclipsing their humane side altogether. A representative of Manas Bangla, a network of seven organisations working in West Bengal, said, it is difficult to approach them. “Eunuchs are considered to be demi-gods and a demi god is not supposed to have problems regarding sexuality. So, it’s very difficult for us to approach them and equally difficult for them to approach us. Irresponsible journalism only makes things worse,” said a Manas Bangla member. From September 2007 to May 2008, the number of hijras to visit Manas Bangla’s drop-in centre to support their cause was 528, while the number of those reached out by Manas Bangla’s field workers was 864. Many organisations working for eunuchs were reluctant to talk to a journalist because on prior occasions news channels portrayed a negative image of the eunuch population. The phobic and the erotic: The politics of sexualities in contemporary India (edited by Brinda Bose and Subhabrata Bhattacharya, published by Seagull Books) is one of the very few books that delve into concepts of sexuality, typical to the Indian society, that has never been out of the closet. The systematic violence that hijras face is reinforced by institutions such as the family, media and the medical establishment, and is given legitimacy by the legal system. The violence that the hijra community faces from the police can be traced to the 1897 amendment to the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, which was subtitled “An Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs”. Under this law, the local government was required to keep a register of the names and residences of all eunuchs who were “reasonably suspected of kidnapping or castrating children or committing offences under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code”. The law also decreed eunuchs as incapable of acting as a guardian, making a gift, drawing up a will or adopting a son. The law that is used most to “tackle” the hijra and kothi communities, as well as the homosexual community in India, is Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”, even if it is voluntary. The law, which has its origin in colonial ideas of morality, in effect presumes that a hijra or a homosexual is engaging in “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, thus making this entire lot of marginalised communities vulnerable to police harassment and arrest. Over considerable passage of time, gender-sensitivity within the Indian bureaucracy has taken a small step, with eunuchs being given the option to enter their sex as ‘E’ instead of either ‘M’ or ‘F’ in passport application forms on the Net.Ambivalence about this gender category remains. The new third option appears to have been furtively slipped into the instructions on the website; it is not available on the application form itself. In column 3 of the form, against which instructions are issued, a person can choose only between ‘M’ and ‘F’. However, including eunuchs ‘E’ on the passport form is a significant step for the millions of transgender people in the country. This is the first time that any official document has recognised them as a sex. They are a huge minority and this means that they are being taken into account, especially when no specific count of their population exists. Now it’s not only the narrow dark lanes where eunuchs are confined to… They have broken boundaries and are exploring different shores.

Soma Basu

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