Hijra is a term in South Asia for gender variant people, a sort of umbrella term within the larger transgender scope.
The Hijra community has majority of their population in the Indian Subcontinent, as well as their long stretching history. The conditions between neighboring Pakistan and India for Hijras may be similar, but India’s progression towards equal rights and inclusion in society is taking place quicker than Pakistan’s. Within recent years, both governments have ruled to allow a third gender status on government IDs and voting ballots. And while the governments are on track, the social environments differ from each other.
Hijras and gender variant people face widespread violence and discrimination. This is reinforced by false stereotypes, social stigma, and religious extremism. Notably in Pakistan, the religiously conservative groups instill the campaign for strict gender segregation and adherence to more traditionalist interpretations. Hijras, along with other communities like Sufis, face violence and attacks from these hard line groups. There are also attacks from misinformed people, family, and occasionally government officials like the police.
There is that idea embedded into Pakistani society that Hijras are backwards or outcasts. While Hijras have held a high status mainly during the Indian empires and more ancient civilizations, there has been a force overturning this image. Scholars have pointed at the British expansion into India and their enforcement of traditional gender roles that have placed Hijras as a lesser group of people. Their reinforcement of these ideas helped shape the society into following the idea of Hijras as outcasts and unwanted rather than their traditionally high status.
Where India is advancing is in representation in media. Recently Padmini Prakash became India’s first transgender news anchor. Her representation and ability to obtain this major position has the potential for reaching out to the Hijra and transgender community in India. Currently, much like Pakistan, the Hijra community lives in extreme poverty, often forced to work in prostitution for income due to wide spread discrimination. Through the inclusion of Hijras and gender variant people in daily life, conditions for the Hijra community have a future for better development and more beneficial conditions.
Where Pakistan needs to improve is where India is beginning to advance. In order to change social attitudes, there needs to be a strong accurate representative for the Hijra community. The government can only do so much in both nations to initiate change for the better. While it can certainly improve living conditions for gender varient people, the long lasting welfare of these communities rests in social tolerance and acceptance. Though both nations have a long way to progress, there is evidence of changing views in favor for these communities.
Photo Credit: Nigeriana