India’s Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 set forth a law by the British Empire that classified transgender [Hijras] as both immoral and corrupt. The Act was amended in 1897 and was subtitled “An Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs” Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code states that “any eunuch so registered who appeared “dressed or ornamented like a woman in a public street….or who dances or plays music or takes part in any public exhibition, in a public street….[could] be arrested without warrant and punished with imprisonment of up to two years or with a fine or both.” Thus criminalizing being transgender and categorizing them along side of murderers and thieves.
Although The Act was repealed in 1952, mistrust of the community remained when in April of 2014 the India Supreme Court recognized people who are transgender as a ‘Third Gender.’ Supreme Court Justice KS Radhakrishnan said, “Recognition of transgenders[sic] as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue.”
“The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.” This decision granted the Hijra educational opportunities and professional rights but most still live in segregated communities working low end jobs and participating in sex work.
Since the entry of the Criminal Tribes Act, the British attitudes towards people who are transgender have become accepted and foreword thinking; whereas, in India time has been frozen to that period where the topic of being transgender has since become taboo and the Hijras are now labelled as the ‘Untouchables’.
Due to negligence, ostracization and brutality, mostly by the police, the Hirjras have been left out of society for more than 153 years and are struggling to be recognized as something more than a backwards class of people. The main issue is that acceptance is very slow, indeed change is written on paper, yet it is not implemented in society.
Transindia, a new documentary in the works by director Meera Darji is a unique look into the lives of the Hirjra Society in Ahmedabad, India and attempts to tell their story in an optimistic manner, capturing their daily lives, exploring their culture and beliefs while highlighting their sense of confidence in their sexuality and gender.
I spoke with Director Meera Darji [In the Life of Manilal Kataria, Strum for Hope] who is now finishing up University in England, about her first full length film and how this exposure will finally give the Hijras the voice they deserve. “My aim is to capture a moving film, which creates an impact, a movement that could gradually bring change in society,” Meera explains, “I want Transindia to reach several people around the world,where it not only gives them an insight on their journey, but also makes them realize that progress needs to be made. I am hoping to screen the film in the small traditional villages; presenting a positive perspective on the Hijras may cause an opposing reaction yet will also give the Indian society an eye-opener.”
Hijras are becoming more accepted into the mainstream lives of India and there are a few success stories where the first Transgender TV anchor was hired in Tamil Nadu and a Transgender Mayor was elected in New Delhi. ” Yet, even though gradual change is taking place, negligence in society remains. The Hijras argue why they are given voter cards when their voices and issues are not heard nor resolved. Their families unfortunately do not accept them and I believe the first step into progress, is acceptance.”
When asked if the transgender community in India was open to her documenting their lives, Meera concluded, “My family in India have fortunately been in touch with many Hijra communities around villages in the Gujarat State. They [Hijras] have been very welcoming and once my family members explained my motives and aims as a filmmaker in creating Transindia, they were very keen ongetting involved and helping out. I have been in contact with a few of the Hijras, where they are very friendly and are excited to see my team and I during production, which is in February 2015.”
Ostracism to the Hijra community is spread throughout the whole of India. The communities themselves are located in and around both villages and cities of India, where they all face negligence. However, with the new Transgender Mayor, Madhu Kinnar in place, change may gradually take place and the stem of that change may be in Chhattisgarh, New Delhi.
“I am hugely passionate about making this film and finally giving a voice to this excluded community” Meera Darji has set up an Indiegogo account to begin filming within the next month. “Instead of recycling the negative portrayals of Hijras, Transindia will create a positive impact on their community, finally giving them a voice they deserve.”
Authors Note: Although the use of the word ‘transgenders’ is considered inappropriate in western cultures, the word is still widely used in India.