India's 'third gender'


In "India's 'third gender': A marginalised social class" from Al Jazeera, we get a brief introduction to the indigenous hijra identity of continental India. In addition to the online article, the Al Jazeera Stream featured a Google Hang Out with several community members.

Respected by the Mughals, but considered criminals by British colonisers, today many [hijras] live as sex workers and beggars...

With a unique culture spanning thousands of years in South Asia, hijras consider themselves neither male nor female. In ancient India, this "third sex" included barren women, impotent men, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites/intersex. Today "hijra" (also known in different communities as Kinnar, Kothi, Aravanis, Jogtas/Jogappas, Khusras or Shiv-Shaktis) refers to those born male or intersexed who live and dress like women. Many biological male hijras undergo a sacred ritual of castration ("nirvan") or sex reassignment surgery. There are upwards of 6 million Indians who identify as hijra, but statistics vary as the population census only includes "male" or "female" categories.

Hijras were once a revered and accepted group in Indian culture. The Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, include eunuchs and characters with both male and female characteristics. They were believed to bring luck and provide special fertility powers. During the Mughal period, eunuchs played an important role in the court administration as royal guards. For centuries, they have performed badhai, or blessings at weddings and births.

Their sanctioned place in Indian culture changed during the British colonial period. Introduced in 1860 and not abolished until 2009, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code outlawed "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." Also that year, the Election Commission allowed "other" gender identification.

The article goes on to discuss contemporary issues, such as difficulty accessing services. 

Read the full article at Al Jazeera Online: "India's 'third gender': A marginalised social class" -- be sure to click "Read next page" at the bottom to get the second page of the article.

The Stream broadcast is not available on Al Jazeera in the U.S., but the 40 minute broadcast is available at

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