Shadow and light

India through its third gender. BY KRATI JOSHI

Beyoncé is asking to turn the lights out from the stereo; the guests are swaying to her rhythm.

Sitting in a corner with a glass of coke in her hand, Rosie looks at her guests. Usually she is in the middle of the dance floor, dancing her heart out. She has always been the life of the party, but tonight is different.

Tonight, she is missing her family. Rosie, like many other members of the third gender, lost her family when she finally asserted her gender identity.

“My son is dead.” Those were the last words her father said before he asked her to get out of the house. Apparently, a boy wearing a sari was not a sight her family wanted to see.

Her crying mom hugged her for the last time and begged her not to come back. Her elder brother never contacted her after he got engaged. She never blamed them for disowning her. After all, they had two sons and no daughter.

Tonight, she is thinking about them and hoping her mom would have thought of her while drawing rangoli in front of the house. It was their mother-son thing. The boys of the neighborhood used to tease her saying a boy is doing a girl’s work. At first this bothered her mother. Later she just learned to ignore it.

It has been more than ten years since she left home. She remembers everything as if it happened yesterday. How she struggled at school, got bullied by boys, abused by relatives, worried her mother, disappointed her father, and, worst of all, how she hated her male body, the body she was caged in.

She wonders if her family is celebrating Diwali the way they used to. She wonders if her brother now has kids. She wonders if they’ve made her favorite mithai, whether they’ve lit the house with diyas and she wonders if they talk about her, even if in hushed voices.

In the darkest night, oh, I search through the crowd, your face is all that I see I give you everything…” humming under her voice, she snaps back to reality. She is with her new family now. Ali and Jen are doing a really bad robotic dance. Rosie laughs out loud.

Looking at Jen, nobody would believe that she got out of jail two hours back. But then again, Rosie thought, this is not new. A police station is like a third home to us third genders, police keep on detaining us on false charges and we keep on cursing them, she mused.

Rosie spotted Sheela, sitting in a nearby chair, eating biryani and talking with a bunch of people. “That bastard doctor made me wait the whole day and when I finally got to see him he lectured me on taking an AIDS test,” Sheela said.

Rosie rolled her eyes at that and took a sip of coke.

“Why can’t they just treat us and stop asking every time if we have AIDS?” Sheela continued. Andy, sitting beside her, tiredly said, “It’s been five days Sheela, stop complaining, we have all been there.”

Rosie recalled all the times she needed medical attention. She thought about all the scars on her body. She thought about the day before her emasculation when Ali dug a grave in front of her.

The old Rosie would die tomorrow and a new Rosie would be born. Hopefully.

The day of the operation, she  had almost died. Thankfully, the operation went fine and she was released from the body that she loathed. Well, partially.

The track on the stereo changed to Mark Ronson’s Uptown funk and Rosie realised that she had journeyed to hell and back. But now she was with people who embraced her, loved her and understood her. She stood up and joined them on the dance floor.

People stopped dancing to look at her. Soon everyone at the party encircled her with claps and laughter.

She sang along with Bruno Mars, “Don’t believe me, just watch.” Of course, they were watching.



It is great that the Indian government is finally acknowledging the third gender. They got their ID cards and the Census is not counting them as “males” anymore.

But still they are struggling even for the most basic human rights. In India, the suicide rates of transgender persons are very high, and proper data can’t be found because their deaths are counted under “male.”


If being a transgender is a natural phenomenon like reproduction then why the gender is still not taught in schools?

Talking about the gender is as a taboo in the Indian society as talking about sex, we all know it is there, but nobody wants to talk about it.

A better understanding of gender is crucial. So, when a twelve-year-old wants to talk about gender, he or she can voice it out and not sent to a spiritual guru.

In 1871, the British colonial government passed the Criminal Tribes Act, under which transgender persons were included among other tribes, castes, and social groups termed criminal by birth.

A century-old law portrayed trans people as immoral and evil.

Sixty-two years ago the law was repealed.

And the stigma stayed…




Kama Sutra 1

GUPTA DYNASTY, INDIA (320 TO 550 AD): One of the earliest mentions of the transgender person in India is from the Gupta dynasty. The most famous literary work of that era is the Kama Sutra. Among very many mentions of marriages between men and between women, the literature mentions the HIJRA, that is, the people of third sex.


 photo credit:
photo credit:

In the epic Ramayana. When Ram was going on the fourteen years of exile the Hijras (transgender people) were among the city, and him to the forest, where Ram gives a speech and asks “men and women” to go back. After fourteen years, Ram finds the hijras outside the gates of Ayodhya. When asked why? The Hijra’s responded by saying that he only asked men, women to go back and they are neither, so they stayed.

Legend also says that moved by the devotion Ram blessed them with the boon to bless people at auspicious occasions.


photo credit: Redtigerxyz via Wikipedia
photo credit: Redtigerxyz via Wikipedia

According to Hindu mythology, Ila is known for the sex change and living half-life as a male and half as a female. Ila was born female and by God’s blessing, soon turned into a male. Some versions of the story indicate that as an adult, Ila was cursed to change gender every month.


Mahabharat 1

In the epic of Mahabharata, there are several mentions of Transgender persons.




photo credits:
photo credits:

In her previous birth, Shikhandi was born as a girl named Amba the princess of Kashi, she considered the warrior Bhishma to be the reason for her misfortune.

For Bhishma’s destruction Amba reborn as Shikhandini who remembers all the details of her previous life.

Shikhandini was a male born as a female to the king of Panchala, Drupada. Later transformed into a man named Shikhandi. In the Kurukshetra war, Shikhandi fought on the side of the Pandavas and becomes the reason for the death of Bhishma.




One of the Pandavas – Arjun, lived one year of his exile as a transgender  named Brihannala. During his exile, he lived at King Virata’s Matsya kingdom and taught song and dance to the princess Uttara.



According to the story, before the Kurukshetra War, Ahiravan offers his lifeblood to goddess Kali to ensure the victory of the Pandavas, and Kali agrees to grant him power. On the night before the battle, Ahiravan expresses a desire to get married before he dies. No woman was willing to marry a man doomed to die in a few hours, so Krishna assumes the form of a beautiful woman called Mohini and marries him.

In South India, hijras claim Ahiravan as their ancestor and call themselves “Aravani.”


The transgender people were placed at the highest position with the queens. They took care of the female chambers and their security.


Credits: Kathryn Wilkins (
Credits: Kathryn Wilkins (

It always comes down to treating a human being as a human being.

The first step towards change is acceptance. If you ask a transgender person what can be done about this, most would say: nothing.


Castration and genital self-mutilation (GSM)

Transgender 101

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