Hijras. Kinnars. Masibas. These people are known and labelled with many pejorative names. But who are they, who are they behind these names?
A unique community, who were once accepted in the Mughal Empire were now completely rejected and belittled in society. Through criminalisation, punishment and imprisonment, I discovered the explicit history of Hijras within my research. Although they appeared in ancient Hindu Scriptures, such as, The Epic Mahabharta and Ramayan, it wasn’t until when the British colonised India in the 18th Century, when the British Raj introduced a new law, classifying all Hijras as criminals under the 1871 Criminal Tribes Act. Despite this Act being repealed in 1952 and the Indian Supreme Court granting them recognition as the official ‘Third Gender’ (2013), negligence in society still remains. Why the ostracism? Why this hatred and stigma against their identity?
These questions continued to fuel my passion, where I wanted to find the true answers to their marginalisation in society. With transgenderism appearing in the social stream, in both positive and negative lights, I could see a glimpse of hope in Western countries, such as England and USA. Meanwhile, as India attempted to bring the Hijras to light, their cases were being dubbed and laws were backlogged, resulting in discrimination and ultimate negligence.
I had read and heard of many assumptions and stereotypes of the Hijras, ‘oh they’re aggressive’, ‘no one has ever seen their death’, ‘give them money or they’ll curse you’, ‘they’re just men dressed in saris’. Reading many articles and blogs on ‘India’s Third Gender’, where words such as ‘horror’, ‘manhood’, ’embarrassment’, ‘vulgar survival’, ‘disgusted’, ‘aggressive’ were all used in one article. I dived further into the research and learnt a vast amount of information on them, which was fascinating. I wanted to know why India was so taboo about these subjects, and why the Hijas were being rejected in society. Needless to say, my motif was to perpetuate how it is not only wrong to judge, but cruel to mock and falsely label a community people couldn’t understand the history and importance of. Whilst the discussion thread poured with encouragement and further sweep of unpleasant comments, my determination became stronger, to not only prove otherwise, but to find and show the TRUTH.
However, in order to convey this message, people first needed to comprehend. I focused on capturing the hijras’ lifestyle, their journeys, providing an insight on the process and what they do to earn a living. I simply didn’t want to continue forcing the question upon their ostracism, but rather navigate my film so that people understood their identity. My purpose was to take my audience on an unforgettable journey through their whole lives, from birth, marriage, to death.
Through the making of Transindia, I not only learnt a great amount of their lives, but also discovered wonderful and genuine personas, which proved all the stereotypes wrong. My encounter with the Hijras was an incredible experience, where they welcomed me and allowed me to film their enriching lives. As we dived deeper into the process of becoming a Hijra and the castration ceremony, we were enchanted with archival footage, which was mesmerising. Their belief and attitude towards their Mother Goddess was outstanding, where the Hijras passionately explored their role as avatars sent by God. From blessing married couples with fertility and bestowing luck to new-born babies, the Hijras performed their duties and asked for money in return.
It was a moving journey which I have translated into a Documentary, to not only provide an insight but to give the Hijras a voice they deserve. Standing at the stem of the problem, where change is precariously taking place, I wanted to provide an exploration of who the Hijras are, perpetuating the truth. It’s time they deserve equality, respect and acceptance in society, like any other human being.