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Karachi

February 6, 2016

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Hijra and proud of it!

Hijra rights activist from India Laxmi Narayan Tripathi says society must learn

to see through prisms, other than just blue and pink

Karachi

Decked in a flowing red sari and glittering jewellery, bold, fiery eyes lined with kajal, and long, lustrous curls in shade of chestnut-brown, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi is undoubtedly a queen.

Not, however, of any land, but of the hearts she has won by not only embracing her identity as a hijra – a word that has come to be used with derogatory connotations – but by also striving for the right to equal treatment for her community and to rewrite the altered history associated with it.

At a session titled “The Dilemmas of the Transgender” on the first day of the Karachi Literature Festival 2016 on Friday, perhaps not fitting as Tripathi describes herself as a hijra rights activist and draws a distinction that the traits of her community are innate as opposed to “trans”, the author of “Me Hijra, Me Laxmi” had a delightful, yet at times pickling, conversation with renowned Urdu scholar Arfa Sayeda Zehra.

When Zehra kicked off the chat with the Indian guest by bringing up the latter’s “lachak (flexibility and, in this sense, the dance associated with hijras)” and her upper Brahmin caste of priests, Tripathi was quick to respond that there was more lachak in the eyes of prying men than that in her body.

On that note, she added that “Meetha”, “Chashni”, “Mamoo”, and other humiliating terms she had been called over the years were not a choice she had made; in fact, her revolt against the mindset from which they originated came after that.

She firmly believes that the colonial masters were responsible for the treatment of hijras as outcastes. “The British rulers created hardships for khawaja siras,” she said. “Their laws did not include rights for the hijra community, forcing them out of the mainstream.”

To back it up, Zehra quipped that hijras were the Mughals’ premier intelligence agency, entrusted with the most confidential job of that time – looking after the harem.

Tripathi said the hijra community had a rich history which needed to be rewritten. “History was altered to marginalise us, but it could not wipe out our existence.”

In her book, Tripathi has penned down her life of constant struggle, beginning from the point of her very birth when a doctor had declared her male – a gender that did not define her. 

“It’s the medical fraternity’s fault which classifies us as males at birth. I am a hijra by soul and I was born that way,” she added. In fact, she pointed out that health experts around the world, after years of experimentation and research, had reached the conclusion that being gay or of the third gender was not a disease; people were just born like that.

When Zehra observed that the world is only viewed through the prisms of blue and pink, Tripathi said it should be realised that there are not just men and women, the third gender existed too.

“I don’t identify myself as a man or woman. There are more aspects of identity than that. It is not our fault that we don’t fit in the society’s established boxes.”

Tripathi writes in her book about her terrifying experience of rape at the age of six. “My feminism was crushed in this patriarchal world back then,” she said.

But she fought back, and in resilience she discovered her strength and most importantly, her identity. “The society told me I am different, I didn’t say I am.”

Tripathi said hijras were deserted and forced onto the streets where they had no other option but to dance and sell their bodies just to survive. She added that the society often did not take into regard that hijras too were humans just like the rest, not inferior to anyone.

 “What else do you expect them [hijras] to do? This lifestyle where they have to sell their bodies just so that they can buy a meal is not their choice. It’s enforced upon them by the society.”

However, Tripathi feels blessed that she had a supportive family that stood by her through thick and thin.

Her father, who she describes as the epitome of manliness, has always encouraged her to live her life the way she wanted, no matter the ridicule he had to put up with for having a hijra offspring.

There was another lifestyle Tripathi could have chosen – a modern one with a bit more acceptability in the society – but that would have meant ditching the traditional ways of a hijra, an identity she dearly holds on to and is proud of. Battling for her community’s rights in India, Tripathi said the constitution of her country guaranteed equal rights to each citizen, whether they were a hijra or the head of the state.

“It’s because the constitution is not fully understood that our community is subjected to marginalisation,” she added.

In Pakistan, Tripathi pointed out, she had found activists working hard for the same cause including Sarah Gill, Kami, and Bindiya Rana.

Perhaps the most valuable message that Tripathi gave to her audience during the talk was the importance of loving yourself. “After I wake up each day, I look at myself in the mirror to see how beautiful I look,” she added. “You must learn to be content with yourself.”

Gifted with a stinging humour, which perhaps has helped her deal with harsh times, Tripathi gave a befitting reply to a strange query that came from someone in the audience that did she shave or not. “Spend a night with me in my room, you’ll find out in the morning!”

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