Of Sarees and Penises

When I was about 8 years old or so, I think my parents started leaving me alone in the house on Saturdays (it’s working day for all except those in the education system).  I was more than confident about the arrangement and was looking forward to it until one day there was a knock on the door! (I almost pee’d in my pants wondering, who knows that there is a child in this house at this time of the day; it must be someone who observes us closely).


As instructed, I used the peep-hole on the door but all I could see was pitch blackness. This child-thief had put his finger on the peep-hole so that it causes me confusion and as a result, forces me to open the door to check. So I ran indoors to find the telephone book to call my neighbour (well-trained by my parents). Bear in mind, by now those kidnappers were banging and kicking the door. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, hands shaking (but for some strange reason I thought changing into something more than my underpants and a vest if I get kidnapped would be more appropriate).  Anyhow, terrified still, I tried the peep-hole again, this time I could also hear laughter and a lot of signature clapping (they are rejoicing at the damn idea of torturing a baby! They are picturing the party in their head, or so I thought). And through the peep-hole, what I saw was not good… If my panic rate on a scale was 8 now it was definitely 50. I was crying very very loudly in my head but not making any noise, hoping after so much banging they’d think there’s nobody at home. But as this they’d read my mind they started shouting back to my head: “Don’t fool us, we know you are inside, open the door!” They were none other than the eunuchs (commonly knowns as hijras) of India.

I quickly called up my neighbour and told her that some hijras are knocking at the door. She rushed upstairs and got rid of them. I hid under the blanket and never got out until mum came back home at about 2pm. After that episode, I was educated about hijras and my dad did not believe in nurturing fear, so he carried on leaving me alone, (which could have gone either way: me turning into some timid cow or what it did to me; it only made me stronger and less fearful of the damning reality of life – mine or others.)

In India, there is a huge stigmatising of hijras. Due to the lack of social respect and acceptance, they turn to prostitution and begging. Indian society can be two-faced. On one hand, Indians are disgusted of these men who are not sure of their sexual identity or have chosen to come out in public about not only their sexual preference but also about their castration or sometimes about being hermaphrodites. It is also strongly believed that hijras who live in this tight community kidnap and groom children into their ways of life to maintain the community. On the other hand, the same community are given (or shall I say these people have proclaimed) some kind of spiritual superiority, because when a son is born, these hijras are invited to do a little dance and shower the baby boy with some blessings in exchange for some money of course. It is almost as if to say that because these men were not strong enough to be the traditional more acceptable form of a man with a penis, marrying a woman, making babies that they can bless a son with strength that they lack. Why otherwise, can’t these eunuchs bless a girl child?!


As a child, it is hard not to side with the society that dislikes these money-demanding members of the so-called “third sex”. Hijras in Indian have a very dry sense of humour. They would dress as a woman (some of them after they have had sex reassignment surgery) and then use their mysterious sexual status to threaten people for money. They would tease you by lifting up their saree almost half-way up to their knees as if to show their bits which to many would be quite unsightly and totally unwelcome. In theory, the fear of having to see their bits on the way to work will goad money out of  people’s pockets. I have never really seen any hijra ever EVER lift up his saree, the worst that usually happens is that they curse you for not giving them money. And as much as their blessings are respected, their curses are feared equally.

It took a few such mixed episodes and a lot of education and exposure to the LGBT world through various college projects and human curiosity for me to not fear hijras, just because they look and speak different. Different can be threatening to some if you know what I mean.

These hijras are loud, they will bang the door and scare you and laugh about it. As a child, I have met so many hijras some would just press their palms gently against my head as if to bless me for no reason or money and some would say “run run away, didn’t your mother teach you that hijras kidnap children and chop their bits off”. Now that is scary!

So, the Indian society has a lot of education to achieve to understand and respect the transgender community. But, the hijras also have to learn to mellow down their dry sense of humour.

This isn’t really a random post, but a post deviated from the actual subject that was in my head. I was reading about the Madeleine McCann case and wondered like many why would you leave your child alone in a foreign hotel room! But I was also simultaneously thinking about BBC’s programme by Stephen Fry called Out There, which was about LGBT. He went to India and interviewed some hijras. Result!!!


For the ones who are more curious can read about Lakshmi – one of the many hijra’s who has received what can be called as an upper-class status and fame, promoting and fighting for the hijras all around the country of India.


5 thoughts on “Of Sarees and Penises

  1. Thank you for writing about this little understood topic. The book, “The Invisibles,” by Zia Jaffrey tries to objectively explore the life of the hijras. It could have gone deeper but it is worth your time.

    • Thanks for giving it a glance. The prejudice is very obvious everywhere and the reason is lack of education. Hopefully, the next generation would be more understood.

  2. Stephen Fry’s show was an eye-opener. I really liked his gumption to go and visit the hijras and treat them as equals. As a kid, I was also terrified of them but as I grew up I realised they are not bad or evil and I should see them with respect. Yes, there some notorious ones but that’s only human isn’t it?

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