|Published On: 2008-12-29 Front Page ‘Hijras’ still deprived of franchise Shahnaz Parveen
|The photo shows a few of the hermaphrodites in Malibagh in the capital who have become voters for the first time. However, they had to identify themselves as either male or female on papers as the state only recognises the two sexes. Photo: STAR
Ignored in every step of life, the society is blind towards a third variety of the sexes, the ‘Hijra Community’ (hermaphrodite or eunuch), deprived of their right to vote because of their distinctiveness.
Hijras are left with no choice and are bound to identify themselves as either male or female, to cast their vote. Bangladeshi law and related election documents, only recognise the dominant two sexes. This is the first time they were considered to cast their vote, either as male or female.
“I am neither man nor woman. But society knows I exist. So why should I have to hide my identity,” said Jaya Sikdar, general secretary of Badhon Hijra Shongho.
“When the government does not allow me to vote with my original identity, it means I am not recognised by the state as who I am, with my biological uniqueness,” Jaya added.
There are no surveys available regarding the Hijra population in the country. Surveys conducted by various NGOs often vaguely mention that there are around 1.5 million Hermaphrodite people living in Bangladesh. They are seriously deprived of many rights.
Members of the Hijra community pointed out that because only two sexes are identified by the state, the Hijras are deprived of the rights to marry, own a passport, a driving licence, open a bank account or apply for employment. Being recognised by the state is vital, they said, as it is related to all other rights.
They also mentioned that none of the parties included their rights in the election manifesto. Also, party nominees did not ask for their votes, ever.
Another member of the Hijra community, Kotha, organiser of Shocheton Shilpi Shongho (SSS), described some of the difficulties faced during the last elections, even disguised as women, on pen and paper. “When I went to vote in the last elections, I could not join any queue, as I did not belong to any specific gender.”
“We are not a curse of nature. What we have is a physical deformation. Other people with physical disabilities can exercise their rights, so why can’t we?” Kotha enquired.
Despite facing deprivation, Hijras have a role to play in the society. The traditional livelihood of the Hijra community is centred on blessing newborns for a fee. Hijras are also largely hired for entertaining weddings, birth rituals and other celebrations in rural Bangladesh. It is even believed that they can get rid of bad luck.
Hijras are however gradually losing their traditional occupation, making it hard for them to survive. Most live an isolated life and even families abandon them.
As an alternative form of livelihood, Hijras are being compelled to work in the sex industry, as they are not readily accepted elsewhere.
Sara Hossain, a Supreme Court lawyer, said, “We cannot ignore the fact that they are nature’s creation and they have been a part of society for thousands of years. We have to accept their diversity with respect.”
“Hijras should enjoy the right to vote with proper recognition, not as man or woman, but as human beings with a third gender. This would give them a proper legal status and create a safety net,” she noted.