I found this article through my morning Google News trawl–it was one of those rare finds in the morning news which is both well written and granularly detailed. Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie–of The Satanic Verses fame–writing on the modern status of the hijra in India.
The hijra are a complex social class in India, often compared to to transexuals in the West but many times misunderstood even within their own culture. The article covers the HIV/AIDs issues of their communities, the hardships recent economic and political changes have put them through, and (most interestingly for me) some of the language of sexuality in India. Here is a paragraph which I think well describes the complex negotiation of terminologies and languages that the hijra culture requires (Laxmi is a modern hijra):
Laxmi is vocal, confident, self- assured. She wants to be a voice in the HIV/Aids campaign, and to help to save what she, too, calls “the third gender of India”. “Hijras have become more vocal,” she says, “but the problem is that activists are trying to put us inside the MSM culture.” (MSM are Men who have Sex with Men, and they are of three kinds: Panthis, who go on top, Kothis, who go on the bottom, and Double Deckers, who need no explanation.)
“The MSM sector is getting so strong,” Laxmi says. “But we are not simply MSMs. We are not even simply TGs [transgendered persons]. We are … hijras. I am carrying a whole culture with me. It’s that collective aspect, the hijra culture, that is important. We cannot sacrifice it. We are different.”
Anyway, fascinating stuff from a fascinating author. Enjoy!
Carl Sagan – “In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”