In Tamil, "Thirunangai", means "most respectful woman." Which is still a distant hope for India's "third sex." But the world's first transsexual marriage site is hoping to change that.
In fact, the so-called "third sex" have a storied and respected history in India, occupy their own caste, and were traditionally the companions of queens. But nowadays, hijras - a term that today includes eunuchs, the intersex, transgender individuals, transvestites and self-identifying "third-gender" communities - are the object of discrimination. The estimated 200,000 hijras in India are frequently cast out by their families, forced to leave the educational system and are reduced to begging and sex work. Says the Times of India,
Hijras have few rights and are not recognized by Indian law. Except for the state of Tamil Nadu that has sanctioned special toilets - and a database to map the population of transgenders in the state and find out detailed demands such as ration cards and voter identity cards - they are denied the right to vote, own property, marry and the right to claim formal identity through any official documents such as a passport.
But, as Kalki Subramanian, the founder of the site and a gender-rights activist, explains to the Times of London, "It wasn't always like this...Only in the past 200 years, under the British, did we become too narrow minded." (The British government classified hijras as "a breach of public decency" and were deemed a "criminal tribe.") She adds, "Many of us would like to marry men; most of us would like to have children, to adopt...But for too long, because of our place in society, these have been distant dreams. People think of us as sexual perverts or clowns."
While "hijras" are represented in some same-sex dating sites, this is the first matrimonial site in the world for self-identifying hijras hoping to meet and marry men. The site states, "transsexual women by birth may not be physically women. But, by soul and heart, we are real women." And as is clear, starting it out of Madras is a major statement. Of course, the fact that the site is explicitly geared towards the population - one could argue, ghettoized - is a double-edged sword: hijras are still very much a group apart. And while the site is a designated safe space that seeks to promote larger discussion of gender identity and discrimination, it still only lists six perspective "brides." And yet, those women boast flattering head-shots and profiles (in Tamil) and their courage has reaped results: as the Times of London tells us, the site has attracted "more than 350 proposals of marriage from men in India, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the US and the Middle East." While one imagines not all the inquiries are serious - or savory - one can only hope that at least one relationship will result in the Valentine's Day wedding the site's founder envisions. And the site is explicit when it issues its challenge to prospective grooms:
Are you a man who believes in equality? Do you respect women and believe in eliminating oppression and exclusion based on gender? Are you someone who is against caste system and dowry? Will you treat your wife as a friend and an equal partner in your life? If so, the transsexual women you find on these pages are looking for life partners.
World's First Matrimonial Site For Transsexuals [Times Of India]
Eunuch Marriage Website Paves Way For Third Gender Comeback In India [TimesUK]
World's First Matrimonial Site For Transsexual Women [IndiaServer.com]
Eunuchs — India's Third Gender [ThingsAsian]