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Confusion over gender is not incurable: Study

Seventeen-year-old Murtaza (name changed) used to rob his sister’s underwear and wear them. He would often slip on his mother’s high-heeled sandals and walkabout in the house. When his neighbours told his uncles that they had seen him dancing “like a girl” when he was alone at home, Murtaza was beaten up.

mumbai Updated: Dec 04, 2011 01:19 IST
Menaka Rao

Seventeen-year-old Murtaza (name changed) used to rob his sister’s underwear and wear them. He would often slip on his mother’s high-heeled sandals and walkabout in the house. When his neighbours told his uncles that they had seen him dancing “like a girl” when he was alone at home, Murtaza was beaten up.

Last week, his mother took him to Sion hospital to get him treated for his ‘abnormality’. “His mother asked us if there is any scope for sudhar (improvement). The boy told us that he was bigda hua (had a problem),” said Dr Gurvinder Kalra, assistant professor at Sion hospital’s psychiatry department.

Dr Kalra found that Murtaza was suffering from a gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria. This is a psychiatric condition involving a conflict between a person’s actual physical gender and the gender that person identifies himself or herself as. Most of the hijras or eunuchs, who physically are boys, identify themselves to be girls.

On examining Murtaza, Dr Kalra found that he had repressed feelings. “We explained to his mother that the boy could run away and join the hijra community,” said Dr Kalra.

A study done by Sion hospital with 50 hijras showed that about 84% of them suffer from gender identity disorder. The condition can be treated and such patients can be rehabilitated. However, owing to the stigma attached to the condition, such persons feel compelled to join the hijra community. Dr Kalra said that culturally, a hijra means neither man nor woman (third gender) whereas people suffering from gender dysphoria identify with one single gender.

“The study shows that if a person suffers from gender identity disorder, it is not necessary for him to live like a hijra. The person can get a sex-reassessment surgery dand not be culture-bound to the hijra community,” said Dr Nilesh Shah, head of psychiatry, Sion hospital.

Dr Kalra presented the findings of the year-long study which was started last October at a symposium organised by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health at Atlanta, US, in September. He plans to get it published in a peer-reviewed scientific magazine.

Speaking about the study, Ashok Row Kavi, founder of Humsafar Trust, said, “There is a need for a protocol for people who suffer from gender identity issues and sex re-assignment surgeries. Currently, it is mostly a hatchet job.”

While similar studies have been done in the West, this study is probably the first in the Indian context.