Bangalore's first Pride Parade...& a bit of queer Hindu history
posted on Monday, June 30, 2008 10:40 PM
Author: Thomas Murphy, London
This article was written with material kindly provided by Hijra Kalyan Sabha, New Delhi.
In a first of its kind for India, Gay Pride parades was held last month in Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata (Calcutta).
Participants marched five km in Bangalore, demanding the repeal of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises homosexuality.
Along side lesbian women and gay men marched colourful bands of Hijra's. In the culture of the Indian subcontinent a hijra is usually considered a member of "the third sex" — neither man nor woman. Most are physically male or intersex, but some are female. Hijras usually refer to themselves as female at the language level, and usually dress as women.
Although Hijra's are usually referred to in English as "eunuchs", relatively few have any genital modifications. The American transsexual activist Anne Ogborn became an initiated Hijra in 1993. She is the first westerner to be a member of the Hijra community.
Many modern hijras, faced with health concerns and discrimination, have become politically active. For example, the All-India Eunuchs’ Welfare Association was formed in 1993-94, as well as HIV/AIDS awareness groups to combat health problems within their communities. One such group is the Dai Welfare Society, a mutual aid society formed in 1999 in Mumbai by and for hijras. The group estimate that half of hijras living in Mumbai are HIV+. Another group is the Hijra Kalyan Sabha.
In Hinduism, hijras belong to a special caste. They are usually devotees of the mother goddess Bahuchara Mata, and or Shiva.
In Tamil Nadu each year in April/May, hijras (or aravanis, as they are called there) celebrate an 18-day religious festival. The aravani temple is located in the village Koovagam in the Ulundurpet taluk in Villupuram district, and is devoted to the deity Koothandavar.
During the festival, the aravanis reenact a story of the religious epic Mahabharata: the mythical wedding of Lord Krishna (who had assumed the form of a woman) and Lord Aravaan, son of Arjuna, followed by Aravaan's subsequent sacrifice. They then mourn Aravaan's death through ritualistic dances and by breaking their bangles. An annual beauty pageant is also held, as well as various health and HIV/AIDS seminars.
Hijras from all over the country travel to this festival. A personal subjective experience of the hijras in this festival is shown in the documentary India's Ladyboys, by BBC Three.
For further information on the subject Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India by Serena Nanda is an excellent book on the Hijra cultures of South Asia.