By Shermin Haider
While today’s discussion on ‘otherness’ and ‘abject’ is still fresh in my mind I can’t help but share with you all (or introduce to you if you did not already know) about a certain population of people who reside in India. This group of people are known as ‘hijras’. Hijra’s include individuals who are biologically born male or intersex possessing ambiguous genitalia but believe themselves to be of the female gender. In India they are considered ‘le troisième sexe’ and are the walking definition of abject individuals. I had my first encounter with a hijra about five years ago when I was visiting Calcutta, India. Prior to visiting India, I had heard about them and
seen them in numerous documentaries and in Bollywood movies.
I remember on a hot and humid day at the bazaar, the vibrant colours of a woman’s orange sari caught my eye. I turned to look at the person wearing the sari and I saw that it was a person who looked male but was dressed as a woman wearing tonnes of makeup. I was shocked!
During my 3 week stay in India, I came across many hijra’s…even witnessing their shop-to-shop visits requesting (and/or demanding, depends on how you look at it) money from shop owners because they are usually not welcomed in the professional workforce. I never visited the red light district in Calcutta but I am aware that there are quite a lot of hijra’s who work as prostitutes. Hijra’s are unfortunately victims of otherness and are still looked down upon in society treated as second class citizens. They carry a stigma in society and it isn’t a flattering one. I have here 2 youtube videos to give everyone a visual understanding of the hijra community in India.
We discussed in class today how in different places, abject may differ. So I leave you all with a clear example on how it apparently does:
I asked my Mommy dearest who was born and raised in India, what she would think if she saw a white male in Mississauga walking on the street wearing make-up and a dress. Her immediate response was “he’s crazy!”. I then asked, “how about an Indian man wearing makeup and a sari in India?” Her response: “You mean like hijra’s? But that’s normal there…”
Hmmm…interesting how in different places and spaces definitions of abject and normalcy differ.