On Saturday, members of India's transgender and hijra community convened in New Delhi for the first Hijra Habba in order to discuss ways to ameliorate the persistent discrimination that marginalizes Indian transgenders.
The hijra, known throughout south Asia as a "third gender" because they are born male and identify as female, live in close-knit communities on the fringes of mainstream society. Since many government documents, including passports, require them to identify as male or female, many of the hijra see their rights curtailed by the impassive machinery of government bureaucracy. Ironically, though the hijra have been widely stigmatized and harassed, they've occupied a venerable place in marriage culture since ancient times, often tasked with singing at weddings and births and, therefore, treated with respect among individual households.
According to Gauri Sawant, general secretary of the Transgender and Hijra Welfare Board of Maharashtra, transgender and hijra individuals are more vulnerable to abuse and discrimination precisely because so many of them remain undocumented. Says Sawant,
In India, cases of violence go unreported as the present social and legal environment is oppressive towards transgender persons and Hijras. Due to their different health identity, they are denied opportunities to earn a living, to study and to access health services. Even changing their names and sex in official documents is not easy
With this most recent hijra convocation in India, members of India's transgender and hijra community are hoping to change public perception and reverse a pernicious social stigmatization.