Hijras of India
Many forms of transgendered cultures used to exist throughout the world. However most of these cultures became extinct as Christian social mores spread and transgendered cultures were banned, stigmatized, or later, absorbed into modern gay-culture. In Indian society, however, there still exists a third gender called Hijra that is distinctly different from the Western concept of transgender.
The Hindu god Shiva, the Supreme Lord, is sometimes described as a hermaphrodite and Indian society sees the existence of a middle gender that combines the characteristics of both man and woman. Hijras are seen as neither man nor woman, and fulfill a socio-cultural role that is reserved only for them. The most well known role for Hijras is the performance of religious ceremonies at weddings and for new-born male babies to bring fertility and good luck. However, the breakneck speed of India’s Westernization and urbanization have meant less demand for the Hijras’ traditional role, creating a vicious cycle that has driven some Hijras to begging or prostitution, earning them disdain and a further loss of their traditional status. Learning about the Hijras gives us new insights into universal topics such as gender and sexuality.