Life no bed of roses for third gender

Updated October 04, 2015

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Despite winning a legal acceptance, social stigmas still hamper complete societal assimilation. ─ Photo by author
Despite winning a legal acceptance, social stigmas still hamper complete societal assimilation. ─ Photo by author
hose who identify as members of the third gender aren’t completely accepted by society. ─ Photo by author
hose who identify as members of the third gender aren’t completely accepted by society. ─ Photo by author
A group of transwomen gather for a mothering ceremony; where an elder adopts a younger girl. Unlike nuclear families, groups of transwomen usually socialise within their own community, usually indoors. ─ Photo by author.
A group of transwomen gather for a mothering ceremony; where an elder adopts a younger girl. Unlike nuclear families, groups of transwomen usually socialise within their own community, usually indoors. ─ Photo by author.
The walls are decorated with photographs of the girls in their best outfits. ─ Photo by author
The walls are decorated with photographs of the girls in their best outfits. ─ Photo by author
They are simple people, their most prized possessions are the fancy clothes they wear to dance shows.  ─ Photo by author
They are simple people, their most prized possessions are the fancy clothes they wear to dance shows. ─ Photo by author
None of them are in close contact with their families.  ─ Photo by author
None of them are in close contact with their families. ─ Photo by author
As birds of a feather flock together, so too do transgender individuals. ─ Photo by author
As birds of a feather flock together, so too do transgender individuals. ─ Photo by author
While they are welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, they are generally not accepted in public spaces such as restaurants and hotels, even if they can afford to pay. ─ Photo by author
While they are welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, they are generally not accepted in public spaces such as restaurants and hotels, even if they can afford to pay. ─ Photo by author
It’s not a lavish lifestyle. ─ Photo by author
It’s not a lavish lifestyle. ─ Photo by author

She flits from car to car, asking for alms and bestowing blessings when she receives a fiver. If you saw her in the bazaar, chances are that you’d ignore her or walk right past her.

Those who identify as members of the third gender aren’t completely accepted by society. Despite winning a legal acceptance, social stigmas still hamper complete societal assimilation.

As birds of a feather flock together, so too do transgender individuals. Spurned by their families and shunned by society, most transgenders prefer to live communally under the protection of a guru, a mother superior of sorts.

Bubly, 55 (L) and Mehak, 50, are gurus and usually stay at home. Everyone pledges to share what she earns with the guru. In return they get protection, love and the sense of belonging to a family.─ Photo by author
Bubly, 55 (L) and Mehak, 50, are gurus and usually stay at home. Everyone pledges to share what she earns with the guru. In return they get protection, love and the sense of belonging to a family.─ Photo by author

“It was mostly the men in our families who cannot accept the way we were born,” Nadia says as she puts on makeup before heading out to beg at the local market.

It’s not a lavish lifestyle; when we meet in the early afternoon, one of the girls has just had yogurt for breakfast and another goes to the next house to borrow milk for tea. There is often no food in the house.

“You will find many scars on our bodies. Some from abuse and some from suicide attempts. I cut myself with a blade, because I fell in love with a man. But I can never have him or his love and affection. We transgenders are just objects of entertainment and fun and only have a temporary place in people’s lives,” says 24-year-old Komal. ─ Photo by author
“You will find many scars on our bodies. Some from abuse and some from suicide attempts. I cut myself with a blade, because I fell in love with a man. But I can never have him or his love and affection. We transgenders are just objects of entertainment and fun and only have a temporary place in people’s lives,” says 24-year-old Komal. ─ Photo by author

Some of the poorer ones have locked up their own kitchens and pitch into one communal kitchen at the guru’s house.

They are simple people, their most prized possessions are the fancy clothes they wear to dance shows. These are carefully folded and stored away in closets. The walls are decorated with photographs of the girls in their best outfits; fully made up, they look no less than move stars.

Society pushes them into isolation with its abuse, so most transgenders can only work as beggars, dancers or sex workers. ─ Photo by author
Society pushes them into isolation with its abuse, so most transgenders can only work as beggars, dancers or sex workers. ─ Photo by author

Most of the houses are one-room affairs with the kitchen in the veranda and one bathroom shared among at least half a dozen occupants. While they are welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, they are generally not accepted in public spaces such as restaurants and hotels, even if they can afford to pay.

“It feels like we were born to be humiliated. Policemen harass us and say disrespectful things but I have hardened myself to be able to laugh off all the insults. Everyone wants us to disappear, but where should we go? We have no protection from anyone,” says 25-year-old Kajal, voicing her angst.

Mehak, a guru, smokes a cigarette as she oversees the girls going about their morning chores. “We are normal people and have household responsibilities. We have to finish our chores at home before heading out to work.” ─ Photo by author
Mehak, a guru, smokes a cigarette as she oversees the girls going about their morning chores. “We are normal people and have household responsibilities. We have to finish our chores at home before heading out to work.” ─ Photo by author

The younger ones bring their problems to the gurus to seek their guidance. None of them are in close contact with their families. Their gurus are everything to them: parents, teachers, counsellors and confidants.

Kajal, 25, has a heartbreaking story to tell. “A man saw me dancing at a wedding and fell in love with me. He wanted to marry me. I liked him too, but I knew I couldn’t give him children and his family would never have accepted me, so I said no. He came after me here, right outside my house. He grabbed my hair and chopped it off, then he beat me. Everyone in the neighbourhood watched but no one came to my assistance.” ─ Photo by author
Kajal, 25, has a heartbreaking story to tell. “A man saw me dancing at a wedding and fell in love with me. He wanted to marry me. I liked him too, but I knew I couldn’t give him children and his family would never have accepted me, so I said no. He came after me here, right outside my house. He grabbed my hair and chopped it off, then he beat me. Everyone in the neighbourhood watched but no one came to my assistance.” ─ Photo by author

Nadia, 25, relates her own story. “I was 12 when my brother realized that I was not a regular boy. One day he saw me talking to a transgender and he got so mad, he dragged me home, shaved off my eyebrows and rubbed black shoe polish on my face. Then he chained me and locked me up. My sisters rescued me a month later and after that, I just ran away from home.”

Published in Dawn October 4th, 2015

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