Gender Nonconformance in Non-Western Contexts: Hijras in India
- Saatvika RaiSaatvika RaiDepartment of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Toledo
- and Josephine KipgenJosephine KipgenWomen, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas
Hijras are described as eunuchs and intersexed individuals, and they are a subgroup within the transgender community in South Asia. They go beyond Western descriptions of LGBT persons and are better understood as a complex interplay of gender, sexuality, traditions, and kinship. Hijras face social stigma and legal discrimination due to their nonconformance with the gender and sexual norms of hetrosexuality dominant in India’s society. They negotiate their identity through religion and mythology, whereby they undergo rituals of castration and emasculation, by virtue of which they play a significant role in ceremonies and festivals. Previously, legal frameworks like the anti-sodomy law of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the lack of a gender category for the transgender in official government documents resulted in discrimination and marginalization of the Hijra community. They faced harassment and violence from the police, medical establishment, and other individuals, and they experienced systemic exclusion from vital social services like employment and healthcare. Legal reform in India, such as the Supreme Court’s recognizing the transgender community as a “third gender” in 2015 and the decriminalization of sodomy in 2018, have been positive steps to improve the status of Hijras. However, inconsistencies in the definition of transgender persons and ambiguity in operationalizing the self-identification process remain, posing a challenge to effective policy implementation. Sociocultural norms of Hindutva and homophobic ideology are still prevalent, resulting in little improvement in the marginalized status of Hijras and the transgender community in India.