Trans Issues

The Tale of the Outcasts

Thithi Farhana

Hermaphrodites have often been depicted in cinema to provide some comic element. Seen as freaks of nature; they are ridiculed and sometimes feared in our culture that does not tolerate anything that diverges from the common. In the Hindi movie Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) they accompanied one of the heroes, Akbar (Rishi Kapoor), in a song. But one of the first sympathetic portrayals was in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995). Off-screen their story is one of discrimination and dejection. In the customs of South Asia, a hijra, is usually considered a member of “the third gender” neither man nor woman. Most are physically male or intersex, but some are physically female. Hijras usually refer to themselves linguistically as female, and usually dress as women. To Indian anthropologist Serena Nanda, Hijras described themselves simply as “neither man nor woman.

According to Adnan Hossain, a student of the PhD programme in Social Anthropology Department of social sciences, University of Hull, “Hijras or hermaphrodites are people with ambiguous genitalia. Also called intersexed, hermaphroditism is primarily a medical condition which results from multifarious biological factors. The term ‘intersexed’ is reserved to refer to a somatic condition in which the hermaphroditic person is supposed to posses both masculine and feminine traits”. However, hijras of Bangladesh define themselves as people who are neither male nor female. They regard themselves as people incapable of sexual sensation. They also claim to have neither a male nor a female genitalia.

According to them, hijras are of three types. A ‘real’ hijra has no trace of genitalia except for a tiny hole for urination. They can be both flat-chested as well as big-breasted. The ‘male hijra’ has a tiny non-erectile phallus. More often than not, they go for a medical operation. The ‘female hijra’ look like women, have female genitalia but they do not menstruate. They may also possess masculine traits.

According to Canadian researcher Aude Leroux-Lévesque “in the last two centuries, hijras progressively struggled against marginalisation, harassment, malicious rumours, denial of human rights and lack of resources.” Consequently the number of hijras who turned to prostitution dramatically rose. This is because according to hijras themselves, they are not given any support by the government or local authorities. Hijras are a significant presence in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and are part of the variegated South Asian culture. National governments deal differently with hijras, according to their constitutional and religious identity. When it comes to hijras and prostitution, the law is particularly strict although the demand of hijras by male customers is extremely high. In Bangladesh sex work has been declared legal by the Bangladeshi High Court in 2000. However, hijras still live in the margin of the society. Bangladeshis, as other South Asians, respect hijras out of fear but at the same time, especially with the increasing spread of Islamist predication, overtly condemn their existence. Leila Hijra of Shustha Jibon a NGO of Hijras says “ People who are building a new house sometimes hire us to dance in each new room, to take away any potential bad luck. We are also hired to dance at weddings and to celebrate the arrival of newborn babies. The everyday life of Bangladeshi hijras is far from being a laughing matter. With the spread of modern forms of entertainment –particularly TV– the call for hijras is decreasing. Increasingly, we are compelled to earn our living by collecting money from shopkeepers –a form of mild extortion — and by prostitution.”

Abu Mokeram Khondaker Secretary General of Association for Environment and Human Resource Development (AFEAHRD) says,“Hijras face prejudice and discrimination at every turn. Marked out by their sexual difference, they are hounded out of schools, and hence lack the necessary qualifications to get proper jobs. It’s almost impossible for them to become educated, to get a passport, or even to open a bank account.”

Pinky Hijra of Badhan Hijra Sangha comments, “there are no authentic statistics on how many hijras are there in Bangladesh. According to newspaper reports, the number varies from 30,000 to 150,000. Hijras get little sympathy from society. We are commonly subject to ridicule and rejection. Naturally, survival instincts make us live together as far as possible. We live in small groups and each headed by a senior leader called Guru Ma, who trains the newly joined hijras to dance, to sing, and to use musical instruments.” Shale Ahmed Director of Bandhu Social Welfare Society says “A lot of people assume hijras were born hijras. Their parents hide them from the eyes of society for as long as they can, ashamed of their ‘sexual anomaly’. At one point these people ‘come out’ and start living the way they do. However, in reality there are many who simply decide to enter this community because of hardships they suffer in life, economic or otherwise. Some are forced into it. They leave their old family and find a new one. They all have to be castrated, according to the rules. Many of them try getting this operation done in the hands of quack doctors and die. So there are only just a few properly castrated hijras out there”.

According to Joya Hijra “We are not only deprived of human rights, but also abandoned by family members. We can go home till our parents are alive. But after their demise, siblings reject us and refuse to communicate with them.” She further adds “I went to village when my father had died. Then I was rejected by family members. Like me, every hijra has a tragic history”. Leila Hijra adds, “The hijras in Bangladesh are predominantly Muslim. There are some Hindu ones too. The community is an amalgam of many religions. We are buried in accordance to whatever religious background we came from. However, this is done secretively. We want to avoid any sort of possible conflicts regarding whether or not to treat the dead body as male or female”.

According to our constitution, equality before law is guaranteed on the basis of citizenship not on the basis of sex. But the Hijra community is essentially deprived of several rights under Bangladeshi law, because Bangladeshi law recognises only two sexes, male and female. All Bangladeshi governmental documents therefore are meant to be prepared for male or female citizens. Hijras are left with no choice; they have to identify themselves as either male or female in those documents.

As hijras reveal, despite the general bias of the society they live in, they are still sought after. There is a high demand for hijra sex workers. Continuous issues between professional female sex workers and hijras (whether actual or not) seem to be customary in red light quarters or brothels of big urban centres in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Reasons are vague and should be looked for in the South Asian gendered social structure. Having a trans-cultural, trans-religious and trans-national identity, hijras truly represent all aspects of South Asian population. They come from Hindu, Muslim and Christian backgrounds. They can be educated or illiterate; they can belong to the lower strata of the population or being the sons of urban elites. Yet while the reasons to join a hijra community may vary, once being initiated they all know prostitution should be avoided. At odds with such rule, hijras are increasingly abandoning their traditional a rule linked to a glorious past (the Moghul courts and ancient Hindu mythology) and embrace a lifestyle grounded on sex work.

While overall HIV prevalence remains under 0.1 percent among the general population in Bangladesh, there are risk factors that could fuel the spread of HIV among high-risk groups. Prompt and dynamic action is needed to reinforce the quality and coverage of HIV prevention programmes, particularly amongst the high risk group including Hijras(Transgender). Hijras are found all over Bangladesh. They suffer from different types of social and political marginalisation. Hijra communities in the country are discriminated against, only due to their sexual identity. Lack of education is a major problem for them, because of which they are not aware of their rights. In Bangladesh most Hijras are involved in selling sex to clients. Due to their low educational status, lack of alternative profession, associated stigma, discrimination and violence, Hijras are most at risk of getting infected as well as transmitting HIV to their clients. HIV prevention activities are one of the components of an UNFPA programme implemented through Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of Bangladesh. Under this country programme, UNFPA emphasises on prevention of HIV among Hijras group to contribute to national response for HIV prevention. Accordingly, it has outsourced BSWS(Bandhu Social Welfare Society) with reducing the risks of STI/HIV transmission among Hijras in Bangladesh as well as improve their livelihood. The project is being implemented by BSWS since 2007 in coordination with Shustha Jiban. There was another Hijra organisation involved since 2007 till 2008 with the project which is currently working with HATI project in Chittagong.

Badhon Hijra Shongho, Shocheton Shilpi Shongho (SSS), Social Advancement Society are working for this community. Apart from these, there are some NGOs that work with this community although the main focus is on HIV/AIDS awareness. Bangladesh Association for Gays (BAG) was the first internet-based organization to support hijra, kothi, panthi and other sexual minorities.

In July 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that hijras should be registered by the government in an effort to integrate them into society and provide them with access to benefits for the poor such as the Benazir Income Support Programme. Hijras have been elected to high political positions in India. Shabnam Mausi became India’s first hijra MLA in 1999. Another hijra, Kamla Jaan, was elected as mayor of Katni, while another, Meenabai, became the president of the Sehora town municipality, the oldest civic body in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In 2005, 24-year-old hijra Sonia Ajmeri ran for state assembly on an independent ticket to represent the estimated 40,000 eunuchs in Gujarat. The wave of hijras entering politics has not been without controversy. In November 2000, Asha Devi was elected mayor of Gorakhpur, a post reserved for a woman. The city had a population just about 500,000 as of 1991. She was unseated when a court decreed that she was a man, but was later restored. In 2005, a fiction feature film titled ‘Shabnam Manushi was made on the life of a eunuch politician. Yogesh Bharadwaj directed it, and the title role was played by Ashutosh Rana. The 2008 movie Welcome to Sajjanpur by Shyam Benegal explores the role of Hijras in Indian society.

Pinky Hijra comments “If a blind, deaf or any other physically disabled person has the privilege to enjoy the rights of citizenship like other normal citizens, then why should the Hijras be restricted in having it?”

Bangladesh is so far quite undeveloped in terms of recognising this third gender and giving them rights and an identity in society. But they are citizens of the country. There has been some attempt to draw attention to this issue in parliament, or to classify these people as ‘physically handicapped’ and give them voting rights. Canadian Researchers Sébastien Rist’ and ‘Aude Leroux-Lévesque comment “it will be very hard to change the perception in one day. Hijra communities across the world, even in the most liberal, open and developed nations still suffer from stigmatization. Countries like India have just recently taken the necessary steps to help better the lives of hijra by legalizing homosexuality. Likewise, Bangladesh must hope for a fair representation in the media.” They further add and emphasise the need to empower this community. “Hijras have capacities, we just need ‘help them as we as find areas and venues in where they might be able to use them; i.e dancing, signing, art, handicrafts to name a few.”

Copyright (R) 2009


Transgenders in Bangladesh earns the right to vote

March 31, 2009 · No Comments

December 29, 2008
Transgender Bangladeshis to vote today

by Rachel Charman
Today’s general elections in Bangladesh will be the first ever to allow transgender people to cast ballots. A Bangladeshi court ruled that transgender people are fully-fledged citizens and must have the right to vote. 100,000 transgender people are expected to be amongst the 81 million voters predicted to turn out to vote. Transgender social worker Joya Shikder said: “We’ve always been overlooked in previous elections. It’s exciting to be given this recognition but the authorities have stopped short of acknowledging us as a third gender.”
Security has been tightened ahead of the election, following an outbreak of violence at a motorcade on Saturday which injured nearly 200 people. 500,000 army troops and thousands of security personnel have been deployed to keep the peace. The election will end a two-year period of emergency rule by an army-backed administration. Other minority groups have been granted the right to vote, including 40,000 Urdu-speaking Muslims, who originally migrated from Bihar after the partition of India in 1947, but were excluded from voting. Members of traveller communities and over 50,000 prisoners have also been enfranchised their right to vote.


by Ashok Deb

Personally I had been a good friend of Joya Sikdar,who is the chief organiser of Badhon Hizra Sangho,located at the outskirts of the city,Badda Dhaka.During my stay in Dhaka in 2006 I have seen Joya organise many demonstrations and street rallies for recognition of the third Gender by the Bangladeshi Government.In the last Election Period the Hizras/transexuals were given a choice to vote as males,as most of them are officially registered as males.But this offer was promptly rejected by the transexual community.I remember those days in mid 2006 when Joya tireless petitioned the Election Commision and the Home Ministry for recognition of the transxual rights.Even I participated in few of such demonstrations and travelled to Nimtoli in Narayanganj,which holds a sizeable third gender population,to conduct street workshop on safe sex procedures for them.Unfortunately Hijras are deprived of many facilities in our so-called society and they have to fight bitterly even for their basic civilian rights. The social approbation and governmental apathy has forced them to a life of  begging. They live from hand to mouth and are insulted or ostracised everywhere.

Some NGOs having awareness program on HIV/AIDS, STDs provide condoms, lubricant and medicine to this community. But the Hizras need education,technical skill, honor & rights like other people in our society. Governmental and foreign funds are being spent on development of under-previledged, but the homophobia and apathy has made the transexuals ecluded from the purview of such benefits.


Hijras’ still deprived of franchise

April 3, 2009 · No Comments

Friday, April 3, 2009 09:37 PM GMT+06:00
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.


Third gender: In search of recognition

April 3, 2009 · No Comments

Third gender: In search of recognition

‘Boy or girl?’ tends to be the first question asked when a baby is born. And a cursory look at the genitals usually provides the answer. But it is not that simple. Hidden gender or the third gender, known as Hermaphrodite or eunuch (hijra) is something one would laugh when talked about. This is something almost everyone will do but not many of us will take the pain to sit back and think that the topic we are laughing at are human beings like us.

People with this hidden gender are mostly overlooked at each and every step of human rights. Nor the society and neither their families are ready to accept them. Hijras in Bangladesh have virtually no safe space, where they are protected from prejudice and abuse. The prejudice is translated into violence, often of a brutal nature in public places, police stations, prisons and even their homes. One of the main factors behind the violence is that the society is not being able to come to terms with the fact that hijras do not conform to the accepted gender divisions. And in addition to this, most of them have a lower and lower middle-class background, which makes them susceptible to harassment by police. There are hijras of upper class as well, but with the power of money they are able to go for proper treatments and survive in the society. The discrimination based on their class and gender makes their community one of the most helpless groups of our society.

Hijras are unique forms of gender. Some are hijra by nature and some are pretenders. They can be categorised as follows:

1) Individuals who are born with sexual deformity (hermaphrodite or intersexed) are known as Khusra (a genuine hijra). This is an identity which hijras strongly portrait.

2) Then we have cross-dresser or transgender, who love to identify them as hijra. Cross-dresser is called Jananay and those castered are called Narban. They are also taken equivalent to Khusra; after attaining asexuality through castration claim that female soul is enclosed in their bodies since birth. This prompts them to behave like women.

3) Then it’s the homosexuals and the bisexuals (only men) who are also known as hijras. Some of them love dressing up like females. But there are some as well who dress up normally, not exposing themselves to society.

It may be mentioned that it is only the fist category, which are genuine hijras. The latter two categories are essentially pretenders. In fact, all hijras are not homosexuals and vice versa. Men involved in sex business and homosexuals tend to join Hijra community, in order to provide cover for their sexual acts and remain disguised in the society. They cross dress and hence are categorized as Jananay too.

Hijras in our country are not given their deserved rights. They are being restricted from enjoying and practicing rights, which other citizens are allowed to practice and enjoy. According to our constitution, equality before law is guaranteed on the basis of citizenship not on the basis of sex. But the Hijra community is essentially deprived of several rights under Bangladeshi law, because Bangladeshi law recognises only two sexes, male and female. All Bangladeshi governmental documents therefore are meant to be prepared for male and/or women. Hijras are left with no choice they are to identify themselves as either male or female in those documents. As a result, hijras do not enjoy equal rights to vote, marry, own a passport or a driving licence, claim employment or get health care.

When A.K.M Nurul Islam was the Chief Election Commissioner (1977-1985), a step was taken to allow the hijras to vote but as a Male. Later In the year 2000, when the voters’ list was in process many members of the national and foreign hijra community did contact the election commission to request for allowing them to vote as Hijra. In reply to which the commission did console them that the hijras” will be allowed to vote in the gender they feel comfort to be”. But till now no work is done on it.

In absence of proper recognition, Hijras are not being able to find themselves a suitable job. Earlier, the Hijras used to sing and dance when a new baby was born. This was one of their major earning sources. However due to lack of social awareness about the hijras, these things are now stopped. Hence the Hijras are losing livelihood in an increasing rate. As an alternative, the Hijras are choosing the option of being sex worker. One of the problems that arose, as a result of getting into this profession, is lack of security. Everyone around them, starting from police, common people, hooligans etc, is torturing them, both physically and mentally. They have nowhere or no one to go and ask for help.

Now-a-days there are some NGOs who are working for the Hijras. For example: Badhon Hijra Shongho, Shocheton Shilpi Shongho (SSS), Social Advancement Society. Apart from these, there are some NGOs who too worked a bit for hijras, but their main aim was health issue of HIV/AIDS and Gays. But only these numbers of NGO are not enough to take care of the Hijra community of Bangladesh. The cooperation of our govrnment is also required along that of the private individuals. The government needs to work harder to create awareness among the common people of Bangladesh.

We all need to appreciate that the hermaphrodites are not curse of nature. The Hijras do not have any other defaults other than only one. If a blind, deaf or any other physically disabled person has the privilege to enjoy the rights of citizenship like other normal citizens, then why should the Hijras be restricted in having it? Hijras must be suffering from psychological problems or genuine handicap, beyond their control. We should understand them and abridge the prevailing state of doubts and mistrust. This will help in solving the psychological and financial problems of Hijras and make their life comfortable and productive for the society at large. Above all, Hijras should enjoy proper recognition not as man or woman but as human being with a third gender.

The author is the Law Programme Officer of LawDev (Bangladesh) a law and development policy research institute.

Aniqa Naorin
Law Programme Officer
LawDev (Bangladesh) a law and development policy research institute.


Fighting for sexual tolerance

Hizras in Bangladesh
Hizras bear the brunt of prejudice in sexually conservative Bangladesh

They have been ostracised for generations but now they are campaigning for equal treatment from society and the law. They are the hizras of Bangladesh. Hizra literally means “impotent ones”. Many hizras in Bangladesh say they are born hermaphrodite, of indeterminate gender.

Others are men who want a sex change, though few can afford to have the operation.

All dress as women in saris or the long flowing blouses and trousers known as shalwar kameez. They wear jewellery and make-up.

“We used to feel that we were the most humiliated creatures in the world,” says Miss Pinky Sikder, the president of Badhon Hizra Shangho (the United Hizra Organisation).

“Now at least we know we are human beings like everyone else and we can have rights.”


Non-traditional sexuality of any kind is deeply frowned upon in Bangladesh which, although a relatively tolerant Muslim country, remains conservative in sexual matters.

During an exam I wore a shirt with a bra underneath. A friend of mine saw it and I was beaten severely by the teachers

Laws dating from the British Raj era making sodomy a crime punishable by life in prison are still on the statute books.

In reality they are rarely enforced. The condemnation from society of anyone found to be gay is deterrent enough for most to remain very firmly shut in the closet.

As the most visible group with a differing sexuality, hizras say they bear the brunt of the prejudice.

“It’s beyond imagination that I could get a job,” says Khuki, who is from the capital.

“Whenever we go out we get lots of bad comments and catcalls. It is impossible to get a job.”

Saima says she was forced to abandon her education.

“I was doing well in my studies but one day during an exam I wore a shirt with a bra underneath. A friend of mine saw it and I was beaten severely by the teachers. I stopped going to school after that.”


Hizras have a long tradition in the subcontinent.

Some see themselves as the cultural descendants of the eunuchs who worked in the harems of the Mughul emperors centuries ago.

We were tortured by the police and the mastaans (local gangsters), they took our money and forced us to have sex with them for free

In India they are considered auspicious. They often turn up unannounced, in a group, at weddings or a house where a baby has been born to bless the family.

They dance and sing, refusing to leave until they are given money. They are seldom disappointed, a hizra curse is believed to be as powerful as a blessing.

But that tradition has largely died out in Islamic Bangladesh, leaving them little alternative but to turn to prostitution to make a living.

After nightfall they congregate in the parks of Dhaka with other prostitutes to look for customers.

It exposes them to great dangers, but members of Badhon Hizra Shangho say, thanks to the organisation, their work has got safer.

“In the past we used to feel very insecure,” says Moni, another member of the 180-strong organisation.

“We were tortured by the police and the mastaans (local gangsters), they took our money and forced us to have sex with them for free.

“We couldn’t assert ourselves as human beings because we were sex workers. But now we have a position and if one person gets tortured or attacked we all go to help them.

“Now we have a community to share our pain.”

Third gender

Badhon Hizra Shangho has also turned its attention to Bangladesh’s laws. The hizras say they face harassment from officials because of their indeterminate status.

Miss Pinky Sikder
When you are united it is easier to survive, says Miss Pinky

“I have had real problems in government offices, hundreds of questions,” says Appely Mahmud.

“They said to me, ‘your first name, Appely, is a lady’s name and your second name, Mahmud, is a boy’s name. So which are you?’ When I replied I was a lady boy they were very angry. We want a conclusion to this.”

The hizras also claim they are routinely denied a vote during elections because they look like women but are registered with the names of men.

So they are campaigning to get themselves officially recognised as a third gender alongside men and women. They want three boxes on official forms, male, female and hizra.

Badhon Hizra Shangho has held rallies in the streets to push for a change in the law.

The hizras also tried to hand in a petition to the home ministry but were held back by police.

Still, the members of Badhon Hizra Shangho hope that eventually they will succeed in getting the rights they demand.

“We will get there.” says Pinky Sikder. “When you see the Pinky of today and the Pinky of 10 years ago there is a huge difference.

“If you are alone it is impossible to fight but if you are united it is easier to survive. We believe our lives will get better.”

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Dhaka


3 responses to “Trans Issues

  1. jamil

    I would like to involve in educationg/development works of transsexual community (hijras) in bangladesh. I would do it as voluntarily basis on weekly off day (friday). If there is any option let me know:

  2. Madhu Hizra

    I am also a Hizra of Shyambazari clan poti chela of Hema Hazi Nayak of Barasat by Birth I am an Indian but by blood I am from Borishal of Bangladesh. It is wonderful to see my countrys Hizras I like them.

  3. Pingback: In Pioneering Move, Bangladesh Grants “Third Gender” Status to Hijras | IDAHO – International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – May 17 | Official website for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17 event

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s