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November 21, 2014

Being Hijra --- Supernatural but not Human Enough

Rudrani at the entrance of the Westend Mall where she was denied entry

Rudrani at the entrance of the Westend Mall where she was denied entry

Rudrani Chettri, is a 35-year old, English Honors Graduate hijra who has been born and brought up in New Delhi. She is also the founder member of the first Community based organization (CBO) in Delhi called Mitr Trust that works with issues of Men who have sex with men (MSM), Transgenders and Hijras. Moreover, she has worked as a national consultant and resource person for organizations like National AIDS Control Program (NACO) , Global fund for TB and Malaria (GFATM), and different state Technical Support Units (TSU) working with HIV and AIDS issues.

On 25th September, she was with her friends and wanted to shop at the Westend Mall in Janakpuri. However, the evening turned out to be very different than that was planned. Rudrani was barred entry into the mall by the security guard on duty at the gate but her two accompanying male friends were allowed. While protesting her debarment, she was told that – Hijras are not allowed inside the Mall Premises. This infuriated her. She continued her protest demanding an official letter from the authorities in-charge of the Mall issuing such a statement that prevents people to enter a mall on the basis of their gender identity. There was no such letter. In the chaos and confusion that followed this, she and her two friends were ganged up against by the other security guards present on duty, both male and female and were abused and threatened to be beaten up. The next day, a complaint was filed by her in the Police Station (see attached photograph) with the help of some of her friends.Rudrani Complaint Page 1

While talking to the hurt Rudrani, she said, “Who is an Indian? Someone who is Man enough or Women enough…Being Hijra, I am not Indian enough”.

Rudrani’s life story has been relatively easy while coming out. Though she was raised in a Hindu Kshatriya Brahmin family, she told me that “coming out could have been a disaster for me, but coming out was not an issue for my family and myself – My parents have been the same to me since I was born, when I was 5 years old or 15 years old, and today that I am 35, they are still the same to me”. She got self conscious about her gender when she was 21 and since then her family never had any issues about her having long hair, her facial hair removed, and her ears pierced. She further added, “Everything is quite acceptable in my family including the everyday showing affects after going through hormonal change”.

“I do have parties at my place with my other Hijra friends where I live with my parents, elder brother and his wife and they are absolutely fine with it”, she continued. “I am part of a culture, and I relate myself much to the Hijras because I am a part of it. We have our own system and culture like any other community does. Most from mainstream see it as some kind of mafia”.

This incident is not the first time when hijras have faced a gross violation of their basic human and fundamental rights. There has been a supernatural status and some kind of horror attached to their existence in the apparently ‘mainstream’ society. This also compels us to think about the ambiguous nature of citizenship that the hijras are entitled to in a democratic country like India. Though everybody is equal in the eyes of the Indian constitution, the ground reality is oddly unusual.

Rudrani was still privileged and courageous enough to voice her protest; there are many hijras who are illiterate and are further marginalized as they have no means to raise their voices against discrimination and exploitation based on their gendered identity that eventually evaporates into a culture of silence. Would it be too much to accept that there is a world of possibilities that exist between the binaries of gender? The hijras challenge the normative assumptions to the understanding of body, gender and sexuality. If only the ‘mainstream’ understanding was deep enough to accept that challenge.

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