Alumna Update: Ina Goel
Ina Goel received the Inlaks scholarship in 2014 to pursue higher education in Gender and Sexuality Studies at University College London. Titled, ‘Spaces of Exclusion or Sites of Resistance? Hijra communities in Delhi’, Ina‘s thesis will analyze the shared living spaces of the hijra communities in Delhi and try and understand how the Hijras have survived bonded chains of human existence in history breathing though generations in the secret yet severe communes.
In 2014 the hijras, a highly stigmatised minority group with an estimated population of half a million, were officially legally recognised as a 'third' gender in India. The hijras can be understood very simply as subaltern forms of trans identities that exist within their own self-made systems of socially constituted kinship networks. As a category, the third gender identity has long been seen as a non-western break from the male-female binary. The term however is yet to be understood in its entirety.
The first thing that comes to mind while hearing the word hijra could be the many stories and folklore one has heard through generations attached to them. This rise in popular flavour has been backed by many inherent stereotypes and myths giving the hijra community a supernatural status. The construction of the hijra identity draws its inheritance of power from its strong fairy-tale inceptions, mostly resulting from the portraits of hijra characters in Islamic and Hindu mythology. The confusion persistent towards their birth and their animated appearance yet remain ambiguous.
Despite many efforts being made by the Government of India, there is a considerable lack of understanding of the hijras as a community. This is due to the fact that the concept of the third gender does not agree with the normative standards of sexual orientation, gendered identity and biological sex.
Being hijra becomes an intersectional space that allows one to be gender variant, whether this be through hormonal, surgical or combined alterations to the body. It is this journey between the two sexes that establishes the performative hijra being. However, there are many rules and regulations to be accepted in the hijra community which have traveled time to vanguard certain idiosyncratic expressions.
Acceptance into the hijra community would require one to have a guru (teacher) who would then acquaint the would-be hijra or chela (pupil) to the prevalent norms and traditions of the community and integrate them in to a hijra gharana. Acceptance into the hijra gharana signifies the legitimacy of ones hijra identity.
In India, the hijras form a systematic and organized community within itself which functions as an underground society. Society’s inability to understand the third gender as well as age old cultural myths has lead to limited employment opportunities amongst the hijra community. This is predominantly why the hijras are self-employed. Most hijras work as ritual beggars with earnings by donations made for seeking their blessings.
It is therefore necessary to reflect on the living experiences of people of the hijra community as a complex and unique socio-cultural group. The interactional space established between the hijra community and mainstream society is constantly undergoing a process of change and it is the dialectics of this process that needs to be explored.
For further readings on the social organisation of the hijra community:
- Goel, Ina (2016): The Hijra Communities of Delhi, Sexualities, Vol. 19, No. 5-6, pp 535-546. Open access - https://www.academia.edu/26348241/Hijra_communities_of_Delhi
For readings in Hindi:
- Goel, Ina (2017): हिजड़ा समुदाय का रहस्य लोक, Gorakhpur Newsline. Open Access - http://gorakhpurnewsline.com/archives/5915
- Goel, Ina (2017): हिजड़ा समाज के भीतर निर्धारित श्रेणीबद्धता, In Plainspeak - A digital magazine on sexuality in the Global South published by TARSHI (Talking about Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues). Open access - http://www.tarshi.net/inplainspeak/hijra-samaj-ke-bhietar/
- Caption: A Hijra in New Delhi observing the fast of 'Karwa Chauth' posing for the photograph while a box of condoms supplied by the government rests behind.
- Source: http://www.grad.ucl.ac.uk/comp/2014-2015/research/gallery/bydept.pht?department=309&personID=233&entryID=233