In 1297, Alaudin Khilji ordered his most trusted subject, the hijra namely Malik Kafur to lead the annexation of Gujrat and consequently to raid Southern India in 1310. Known as khwajasaras, hijras, enjoyed their much-esteemed position in the Delhi sultanate and the Mughal courts as guardians of the state treasury and as protectors of the women harems from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The royalty eventually eroded with history, carving borders and stripping hijra bodies of their social status and gender identities. The eunuchs of the grand Mughal courts as we remember them to be, have seized to exist only in the form of romantic scriptures while the hijra of the twenty-first century wallows in pits of violence rowdily shielded with claps, pouts and clamor.
While some women might find it suffocating enough to walk through the narrow alleys of Dupatta Galli or Anarkali, they still have a chance of shouting for help and get the harasser beaten up by the chivalrous mob. The hijras, on the other hand have no such ways. Even if they scream for help, it eventually settles as an entertaining episode of dramatic insinuations displayed by the she-males, who invariably have no other way to reclaim their bodies but through verbal insults and insulting banter. The hijra lingo itself has been sanctified by various narrators as ‘a form of resistance’ to survive in hostile places and reclaim them as their own. In this respect, Shivarama Karanth, in his novel Mukajji (1942) compares the use of curses by hijras to those of a Hindu widow who defies the social order through her verbal offences and sharp remarks.
From getting out of their homes to getting back to their beds, a hijra’s usual day may include being groped by side-walkers, having men stare at their chests intently without hesitance and being sprayed with verbal assaults in general. In Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary, ‘Transgender- Pakistan’s Open Secret,’ Sana (on being called a faggot) says, ‘I feel so angry. I feel like ripping them and beating them so much so that they remember this but now… my brain has become numb after listening to all of this. Now I say to them, say what you have to say.’
Empirical research suggests that in the course of a year, 40% of the hijras were physically abused or forced to have sex either by the police or their clients (71% in Karachi and 32% in Lahore), 45% felt discriminated while 19% were threatened or blackmailed. Sana (from Chinoy’s documentary) narrates, ‘He took out a gun and put it on my head and then two men took me to their house. They did whatever they wanted with me… good or bad. What can I tell you? It doesn’t sound nice. I don’t want to talk about it. It makes me uncomfortable. They let me go the next morning. That’s when I came home.’ Anecdotes such as that of Sana are common in the hijron ka mohala (hijra societies), and can be described in the least as horrific, putting the word harassment to shame.
Undeniably so, the systematic exclusion of hijras has made them more vulnerable to getting assaulted and harassed than they already are no matter how much they resist in being pulverized to a less-than-human form. Every once in a while, activists raise their voices and make the case of ‘hijra rights are human rights’ yet again, demanding the state to recognize hijras as ‘full humans.’ On the same note, hijras keep making themselves visible with striking colors, pale faces, singing, repeated claps and mindless flirtations.
The harassment continues, with bodies holding no meaning and with skin posing no barriers. This is the twenty-first century trans-woman, who centuries ago, was somewhat different. While organizations advocate for their rights and the court passes judgements for progression, the streets remain the same- soliciting acts of harassment, performance and business in a jar. In the words of Chahat (from Chinoy’s documentary), ‘death is better than this life.’