Hijras Again

The National Geographic channel had a program on hijras - the Subcontinent's transvestite-eunuchs. The group the program focussed on lived in Bombay, but were originally from Tamil Nadu. They were shown going from shop to shop, demanding money from the shopkeepers. Each time they entered a shop, they would clap their hands: clap-clap, pause. Clap-clap, pause. One of the hijras said, "No one had to teach me to clap this way, I was born knowing this."

Afterwards I said to Ramesh, "She sounded as though there were something very difficult or special about the way she clapped." He said that even when he was a child in Calcutta, that way of clapping was associated with hijras. If one boy wanted to taunt another, all he had to do was clap-clap, pause, and the message was clear: "You are nothing but a hijra." Or if two boys got into a fight, one might clap, meaning, "Don't think you can fight me, you're just a hijra."

The program also had a segment about the hijras' annual festival, at a small village in the South, where thousands of hijras come from all over the country. The figure of a god is created, and the hijras marry him. Then he is killed, and the hijras become widows. You see them crying, and breaking their bangles as widows do. The commentator said that this ceremony symbolised the condition of hijras today. Once they were feared, and it was believed that they had the power to bless or curse. Now they have lost their traditional place in society, and are despised, not much more than beggars.

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