Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Dancing Dervesh of Ajmer

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The Hijras of Ajmer

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hijra_(South_Asia)

In the culture of South Asia, a hijra (Urdu: ہجڑا ,Hindi: हिजड़ा), is usually considered a member of "the third gender" — neither man nor woman. Most are physically male or intersex, but some are physically female. Hijras usually refer to themselves linguistically as female, and usually dress as women.

Although they are usually referred to in English as "eunuchs", relatively few have any genital modifications.[1]

The Urdu and Hindi word "hijra" may alternately be romanised as hijira, hijda, hijada, hijara, hijrah and is pronounced [hidʒɽaː], between "heejra" and "heejda". An older name for hijras is kinnar, which is used by some hijra groups as a more respectable and formal term. An abusive slang for hijra in Hindi is chhakka(छक्का). Another such term is khasuaa(खसुआ) or khusaraa(खुसरा).

In Bangla "hijra" is called hijra, hijla, hijre.

A number of terms across the culturally and linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent represent similar sex/gender categories. While these are rough synonyms, they may be better understood as separate identities due to regional cultural differences. In Tamil Nadu the equivalent term is Thiru nangai (daughter of god), aravanni, aravani, or aruvani. In Urdu and Punjabi, both in Pakistan and India, the term khusra is used. Other terms include jankha. In Gujarati they are called Pavaiyaa (પાવૈયા).

In South India, the goddess Yellamma is believed to have the power to change one's sex. Male devotees in female clothing are known as Jogappa. They perform similar roles to hijra, such as dancing and singing at birth ceremonies and weddings.[2]

The word kothi (or koti) is common across India, although kothis are often distinguished from hijras. Kothis are regarded as feminine men or boys who take a feminine role in sex with men, but do not live in the kind of intentional communities that hijras usually live in. Local equivalents include durani (Kolkata), menaka (Cochin),[3] meti (Nepal), and zenana (Pakistan).

Hijras are widely referred to in English with the term "eunuch" or hermaphrodite, although LGBT historians or human rights activists might label them as being transgender.

[edit] Gender and sexuality

These identities have no exact match in the modern Western taxonomy of gender and sexual orientation. Most are born apparently male, but some may be intersex (with ambiguous genitalia). They are often perceived as a third sex, and most see themselves as neither men nor women. However, some may see themselves (or be seen as) females,[4] feminine males or androgynes. Some, especially those who speak English and are influenced by international discourses around sexual minorities may identify as transgender or transsexual women. Unlike some Western transsexual women, hijras generally do not attempt to pass as women. Reportedly, few have genital modifications, although some certainly do, and some consider nirwaan ("castrated") hijras to be the "true" hijras.

A male who takes a "receptive" or feminine role in sex with a man will often identify as a kothi (or the local equivalent term). While kothis are usually distinguished from hijras as a separate gender identity, they often dress as women and act in a feminine manner in public spaces, even using feminine language to refer to themselves and each other. The usual partners of hijras and kothis are masculine men, whose gender identity is as a "normal" male who penetrates.[5] These male partners are often married, and any relationships or sex with 'kothis' or hijras are usually kept secret from the community at large. Some hijras may form relationships with men and even marry,[6] although their marriage is not usually recognized by law or religion. Hijras and kothis often have a name for these masculine sexual or romantic partners; for example, panthi in Bangladesh, giriya in Delhi or sridhar in Cochin.[3]

[edit] Becoming a hijra
This section needs additional citations for verification.
Please help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2008)

Becoming a hijra is a process of socialisation into a "hijra family" through a relationship characterised as chela "student" to guru "teacher", leading to a gradual assumption of femininity. Typically each guru lives with at least five chelas; her chelas assume her surname and are considered part of her lineage. Chelas are expected to give their income to their guru, who manages the household. Hijra families are close-knit communities and often have their own houses.

This process may culminate in a religious ritual that includes emasculation (total removal of the penis, testes and scrotum in men). Not all hijras undergo emasculation, and the percentage of hijras that are eunuchs is unknown. The operation — referred to by hijras as a nirvan ("rebirth") and carried out by a dai (traditional midwife) — involves removing the penis and scrotum with a knife without anesthesia. The cry and wail of the target is covered with loud trumpeting. In modern times, some hijras may undergo a vaginoplasty, allowing them to experience vaginal intercourse, but such cases are rare. The American transsexual activist Anne Ogborn became an initiated Hijra in 1993. She is thought to be the first Westerner to be a member of the Hijra community.[7]

[edit] Social status and making a living

Most hijras live at the margins of society with very low status; the very word "hijra" is sometimes used in a derogatory manner. Few employment opportunities are available to hijras. Many get their income from performing at ceremonies, begging, or prostitution — an occupation of eunuchs also recorded in premodern times. Violence against hijras, especially hijra sex workers, is often brutal, and occurs in public spaces, police stations, prisons, and their homes.[8] As with transgender people in most of the world, they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories.[citation needed]

Hijras have earned an income from the Indian government for collecting taxes from the villages and cities, the most effective method ever employed by the India government in collecting taxes still used in some cities.[citation needed]
A young Hijra from Goa India.

Hijras are often encountered on streets, trains, and other public places demanding money from young men. If refused, the hijra may attempt to embarrass the man into giving money, using obscene gestures, profane language, and even sexual advances. Hijras also perform religious ceremonies at weddings and at the birth of male babies, involving music, singing, and sexually suggestive dancing. These are intended to bring good luck and fertility. Although the hijra are most often uninvited, the host usually pays the hijras a fee. Many fear the hijras' curse if they are not appeased, bringing bad luck or infertility, but for the fee they receive, they can bless goodwill and fortune on to the newly born. Hijras are said to be able to do this because, since they do not engage in sexual activities, they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to either bestow a boon or a bane.

The hijra can also come as an invitee to one's home, and their wages can be very high for the services they perform. Supposedly, they can give insight into future events as well bestow blessings for health. Hijras that perform these services can make a very good living if they work for the upper classes; in 2005, a hijra accepted offerings of close to 5000 rupees for approximately twenty minutes of work.

[edit] Politics and activism

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 estimates that half of the hijras living in Mumbai have HIV.[9] Another group is the Hijra Kalyan Sabha.

Hijras have been elected to high political positions; Shabnam Mausi became India's first hijra MLA in 1999 (as an independent), only five years after hijras were allowed to vote.[10] Another, Kamla Jaan, was elected as mayor of Katni, while another, Meenabai, became the president of the Sehora town municipality, the oldest civic body in the state of Madhya Pradesh.[11] In 2005, 24-year-old hijra Sonia Ajmeri ran for state assembly on an independent ticket to represent the estimated 40,000 eunuchs in Gujarat. The wave of hijras entering politics has not been without controversy. In November 2000, Asha Devi was elected mayor of Gorakhpur, a post reserved for a woman. The city had a population of approximately 500,000 as of 1991. She was unseated when a court decreed that she was a man,[12] but was later reinstated.[citation needed]

In Bangladesh, some NGOs perform welfare works for hijra and other sexual minorities. Bangladesh Association for Gays (BAG) was the first internet-based organization to support hijra, kothi, panthi and other sexual minorities. Others, such as Gay-Bangla and Queer-Bangla also support the hijra community. In Khulna city, the hijra community is active in teaching HIV/AIDS awareness.
The Rainbow Flag for Bangladeshi LGBTIQ People.

[edit] History

The ancient Kama Sutra mentions the performance of fellatio by masculine and feminine people of a third sex (tritiya prakriti).[13] This passage has been variously interpreted as referring to men who desired other men, so-called eunuchs ("those disguised as males, and those that are disguised as females"[14]), male and female transvestites ("the male takes on the appearance of a female and the female takes on the appearance of the male"),[15] or two kinds of biological males, one dressed as a woman, the other as a man.[16]

During the era of the British raj, authorities attempted to eradicate hijras, whom they saw as "a breach of public decency".[17] Anti-hijra laws were repealed; but a law outlawing castration, a central part of the hijra community, was left intact, though rarely enforced. Also during British rule in India they were placed under Criminal Tribes Act 1871 and labelled a "criminal tribe", hence subjected to complusory registration, strict monitoring and stigmatized for a long time, after independence however they were denotified in 1952, though the century old stigma continues [18].

In Hindu contexts, 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 eighteen-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, who is identified with Aravan. 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 Aravan, son of Arjuna, followed by Aravan'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 experience of the hijras in this festival is shown in the documentary India's Ladyboys, by BBC Three and also on the television series "Taboo" on the National Geographic Channel.

Me at the Mehfil on eve of Chatti

The Mehfil on the Terrace of Peersaabs house was to commemorate the eve of Chatti.. a very important day for the Sabri Sufi sect..paying allegiance to the Holy Saint Khwajah Gharib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishty al Sabri.

As I was leaving the following morning , this was the eve of my departure from Ajmer Sgarif, I was to catch the Aravalli Express at 11 am, I had come to Ajmer bare feet, I had stopped all my insulin intake and diabetic medicine, I had raw fresh wounds on my feet.

I shot this event and the highlight was the dancing dervesh of Ajmer , whirling kaif that they performed on the beats of the qawwals..I went into kaif too..

I aborted this segment to go and get my tired feet massaged at Moti Katla and shot the hijras and the rafaees ..I shot 3 cards of 4 GB each..in this short while.

I had arrived on 28 June 2009. 8 pm . and left Ajmer on 30 June 2009 11 am.

Peersaab at the Mehfil on Eve of Chatti

The Mehfil on the Terrace of Peersaabs house was to commemorate the eve of Chatti.. a very important day for the Sabri Sufi sect..paying allegiance to the Holy Saint Khwajah Gharib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishty al Sabri.

As I was leaving the following morning , this was the eve of my departure from Ajmer Sgarif, I was to catch the Aravalli Express at 11 am, I had come to Ajmer bare feet, I had stopped all my insulin intake and diabetic medicine, I had raw fresh wounds on my feet.

I shot this event and the highlight was the dancing dervesh of Ajmer , whirling kaif that they performed on the beats of the qawwals..I went into kaif too..

I aborted this segment to go and get my tired feet massaged at Moti Katla and shot the hijras and the rafaees ..I shot 3 cards of 4 GB each..in this short while.

I had arrived on 28 June 2009. 8 pm . and left Ajmer on 30 June 2009 11 am.