Recently in my anthropology of gender class, we discussed Indian hijras, many of whom are members of the transgender and intersex communities. Now officially recognized as the “third gender” in India, hijras are a vital part of Indian culture. For example, many Hindus believe that the blessings of a hijra on a newborn baby will lead to a life of prosperity. Hijras are even invited to weddings to confer blessings on the couple.
Hijras are often born male but present as feminine. Many hijras are also born intersex (having a combination of male and female biological traits), while others may undergo voluntary castration to remove their male genitalia. Despite the spectrum among hijras, most consider themselves to be a different gender altogether, i.e. the third gender.
While doing additional research on this topic after class, I came across Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. Tripathi is a transgender and hijra rights advocate that has had a significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community in India.
Tripathi was born in Thane, Maharashtra in 1978 and later graduated with a degree in fine arts from Mumbai’s Mithibai College and went on to earn a postgraduate degree in Bharatanatyam dance at the same institution. She began her activism in the early 2000s. In 2002, she was appointed president of Mumbai-based Dai Welfare Society which aims to achieve equality for hijras in India. She began organizing in earnest in 2005, when Maharashtra home minister RR Patil imposed a ban on bars. The ban had a significant impact on the livelihood of bar dancers, for whom dancing is a crucial source of income. Tripathi led protests against the decision, and although the ban remained, the protests fueled her drive. In 2007, she started a non-profit organization called Astitva for the rights of sexual minorities. Her lengthy fight for the welfare of the LGBTQ+ community came to fruition in 2014, when India officially recognized hijras as the “third gender” and later in 2018, when the Supreme Court repealed Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Tripathi played an essential role in both of these pieces of legislation by petitioning the court to recognize the discrimination against the trans community and to enshrine their rights in law. She also partook in protests and spoke about the injustices against queer people while the verdict was deliberated. She continues to work for the betterment of LGBTQ+ communities in the country.
Tripathi broke boundaries for the LGBTQ+ community by bringing to light the issues that queer people face in Indian communities.
Despite strides made by the LGBTQ+ community and Indian’s reverence of hijras, trans people in India continue to face discrimination due to social and cultural biases. Many trans communities lack access to safe water and sanitation since most belong to marginalized sections of society. Tripathi explains that in order for India to accomplish its mission of inclusive and sustainable sanitation, the government must address the needs of the transgender community since they are most affected.
Tripathi also sheds light on the fact that even educated women don't understand their rights and are trapped beneath patriarchal notions of what they are supposed to do. Her work gives voice and power to women and hijras alike.
Tripathi has shed light on many different inequalities, be it transphobia or sexism, that persist in Indian society. Although the hijras are recognized as a “third gender” legally, they continue to struggle for their basic rights. To foster a more equal, just society, the Indian government must assure that hijras have access to their basic needs and can exercise their rights.
I will end this post with a few of Tripathi’s own words:
“The strength everyone should have is the strength not to surrender… I believe neither religion, nor God, nor any energy you believe in… would discriminate against any soul… because we are all children of the Almighty.”