A BRIEF HISTORY OF TRANSGENDERS IN INDIA

What does it feel like to be different? Different both in physical and psychological form or called as sexual minority, there are thousands of questions linked with the very fact of being different while the answers are still left vague and uncertain. The Transgender community all around the world has been dealing with these questions. These community forms a part of the world population be it in India, United States, Britain, China, Japan etc.

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India is one of the most religiously and traditionally diverse nation in the entire world. She has a very long History of its own which reflects the customs and usages that prevailed during that time and the interesting part is that those customs and traditions is still prevalent in this modern century.

The very concept of Hijras and other Transgenders in India is not a new concept; they have been recognised in our ancient history as well. Transgender Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts[1]. The literature named Kama Shastra the ancient Hindu text in which they have been referred as ‘tritiyapakriti’ or third gender has been an integral part of vedic and puranic literatures, it categorises men who desire other men as a ‘third nature’. The word namely ‘napunsaka’ has been commonly used to denote the absence of procreative capability of a person.

Lord Rama, in the epic Ramayana, was leaving for the forest upon being banished from the kingdom for 14 years, turns around to his followers and asks all the ‘men and women’ to return to the city. Among his followers, the hijras alone do not feel bound by this direction and decide to stay with him. Impressed with their devotion, Rama sanctions them the power to confer blessings on people on auspicious occasions like childbirth and marriage, and also at inaugural functions which, it is believed set the stage for the custom of badhai in which hijras sing, dance and confer blessings[2]. In Hindu mythology, Bahuchara Mata who is a Hindu Goddess is considered as the patronage of the Hijra community in India.

The myth continues with the name of Iravan/Aravan, a patron God of the well-known transgender communities called Ali. And many number of 14th century texts in Sanskrit and Bengali namely krittivasa Ramayana has high-lightened the practice of custom in India. Though Hijras were recognised and given importance in our ancient custom and practises, the conditions have been deteriorating generation by generation.

[1]National Legal Services Authority vs.Union of India (UOI) and Ors.

[2]Supra 3, para 13.

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