India's shunned transgenders struggle to survive

Thu May 17, 2012 3:20am EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Atish Patel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Seema, a husband and father of two, gets ready for another night of work on the streets of the Indian capital, placing two halves of a yellow sponge ball into empty bra cups.

The 33-year-old then plucks out the stubble on his chin, applies foundation from a pink heart-shaped make-up box and combs his chin-length black hair in front of a large mirror.

Seema is transgender, one of hundreds of thousands in conservative India who are ostracized, often abused and forced into prostitution due to no legal recognition, even as the world marks International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.

"It's necessary for me to do sex work because I have to look after my family," Seema said, adjusting a deep red scarf. "Nobody does it of their own wish. We have sex because we have no other choice."

Male-to-female transgenders, also known as "hijras", have a long history in South Asia, experts say. The Sanskrit texts of the Kama Sutra, written between 300 and 400 B.C., refers to a "third sex". The Kama Sutra is an ancient Indian Hindu text on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature.

During the Mughal empire in the 16th and 17th centuries, castrated hijras - or eunuchs - were respected and considered close confidants of emperors, often being employed as royal servants and bodyguards.

These jobs were so coveted that historians say some parents actually castrated their sons in order to attain favor with the Mughal kings and secure employment for their children.

But despite acceptance centuries ago, hijras today live on the fringes of Indian society and face discrimination in jobs and services such as health and education.   Continued...

 
Seema, 33, poses for a picture outside a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) office, which supports sexual minorities, in New Delhi May 14, 2012. Seema is transgender, one of hundreds of thousands in conservative India who are ostracised, often abused and forced into prostitution due to no legal recognition, even as the world marks International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17. Picture taken May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi