Last week before coming to Mysore (my home, away from home), Fulbright Fellows got together for a beautiful dinner to close orientation week. At dinner, I had a really great conversation with a fellow Fulbright scholar that got me even more interested in transgender studies in India. After a long day at a seminar and listening to a panel of people talking about gender roles, security and life in India;. My new friend asked me what type of research I was doing, and as soon as she learnt about my Hijdras research, she started to talk about her experiences with the Hijras community in New Delhi. As some of you who have already read my previous posts on my website, Hijras are a group of transgender women officially considered a third gender in India. Hijras, an institutionalized third gender (Kalra, 2012), as in many parts of the world face several difficulties in the state of Karnataka such as problems related to violence, rejection, low-income status and even partner violence.
While dining at a quiet restaurant in Delhi, we discussed issues about the transgender community in New Delhi, and how they were socially categories. When starting my project almost two years ago, Hijras were defined in my projects as a transgender community, but apparently, this classification is not the same in other parts of India. In her opinion and after a few conversations with transgender friends my dear colleague explained to me that in New Delhi, a transgender woman who self-identifies as Hijra may use prostitution as her main source of income. On the other hand, if the women self-identifies as a transgender woman and are accepted by their family, then she is considered to come from high social status. By having conversations with transgender friends my colleague understood that middle-class families that accept their children as transgender want to make sure they don’t act or look like a Hijra just because of the stigma associated with the community. I Know, it is a little confusing, and that is exactly what I told my fellow Fulbrighter. It means that if the transgender comes from a lower socioeconomic class in the society, they are called a Hijra, and if they have a good source of income they are called ‘transgender ‘women in New Delhi. Interesting right! We all think that we have enough divisions and classifications in the world, but I guess we humans have the need of creating more groups to have a social identity.
Because of how fascinating the Hijra topic was that night, I spent some more time conducting more research to better understand the transgender social status in Delhi, India. After researching for two days, I noticed that they are probably no studies related to social status for the transgender community in India. We do know that they are all types of SES in the world but knowing exactly how the transgender community itself is divided because of how wealthy they are is not documented in research. I do have to say that is a little uncomfortable to talk about as it further leads to division within a community that has gone through a lot of rejection. I cannot understand why a community will like to make more social divisions when it is a struggle to survive in a country that considered gay sex illegal till a few weeks ago.
It has been a great few days in New Delhi. I have met lots of interesting and smart people from the United States who are coming to India to do their work. Students coming from some of the best universities, and people here that have committed their lives to create a space to help us to reach our goals in life. Now I am so ready to go to my second home (Mysore) and see my second family and start my new journey in my beautiful India.
Kalra, G. (2012), Hijras: the unique transgender culture of India. International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, 5, 121-126
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