A son had been born in the family and hijras (khusras, as called in Punjab) were dancing. The entire mohalla watched and clapped along, and some exuberant people joined the fun. Dadi was pleased the most, since it was her first grandson. She showered bounty on the dancers, who, in return, lavished blessings upon the child and the family.
That was 1975. Move forward to 2001. The son now is a grown man, and it is his wedding. Dadi has blessed the couple from heaven and her clan parties on the earth but could a male wedding in North India be complete without the auspicious presence of hijras? Welcomed with open arms, they dance and sing for 10 minutes or so, and then, demand an unreasonable sum.
The groom’s parents are flabbergasted: “Hijras don’t make demands! What they get is a ‘shagun’, as per the celebrating family’s means and wishes.” The sum anyway is too high to be paid without protest. Mother, who tries to negotiate, is threatened that if the payment was not instant, the eunuchs would break into a full monty.
Silence befalls. It’s a respectable residential area of Chandigarh, where the show of skin in public is unheard of. Someone suggests calling the police but no one wants to spoil a happy occasion. Parents hand over the sum with a philosophical shrug.
After about two hours; another group of eunuchs crashes the party, claiming sole right to all the shagun collection in that territory. This time, the parents put their foot down and refuse to be defrauded again.
Blame our social system, which has reduced the third gender to demeaning roles. The hijra community has suffered since time immemorial; without identity, employment, and social status; and pushed to the fringes of society. Occasional welcome appearance apart, the society shunned them at large. They did not work in offices, shops or business houses. They were not teachers, doctors, lawyers or engineers; and there was no question of them being part of a regular family.
Now it’s dancing time in the eunuch family. It’s their birth as individual, a respectable member of society. Late though, India has recognised at last the third gender after Nepal, Bangladesh and even Pakistan. The Supreme Court decision has made a major difference. Now a Hijra is not Miss, Mrs or Mr but simply “Simran” or whatever the name be. The third gender has the right to vote, government job, Aadhaar card, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) benefit that gives them social equality and economic freedom.
Not a giant leap but a step in the right direction for mankind.