With different clans and cultures constituting the global system, each culture is unique and one of a kind. This study will record one such culture in India, which is rich in ethnicity and unique. The transgenders are now referred with names such as Hijras, Kothis, Aravanis, Alis, etc. While they are neglected and rejected on a large scale, they have a very valuable history in India, where they held positions of great reputation. They were earlier referred to as ‘Eunuchs’, which is a word derived from Greek, with the meaning, ‘Keeper of the bed’.
The historical evolution that the trangenders have gone through is not stable, but with great variations. During the Mughal rule, the transgenders were respected to be of great valor and strength. P.K. Hitti says that Eunuchs who were the recipients of special favors from their masters, wore rich and attractive uniforms and often beautified and perfumed their bodies in effeminate manner. They were employed in several revered positions like political advisors, administrators, generals and also guardians of harems. A harem was inconceivable without eunuchs. “It is a very significant fact of Muslim history that some great nobles in the Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire were eunuchs. Imduddin Rayhan, the chief minister under Sultan Balban, Kafur Hazardinari, the army commander and the vice-regent of Alauddin Khalji, and Khurau Shah, the favourite of Qutbuddin Mubarak Khalji who rose to be king were all eunuchs. They were also employed to guard religious places like Mekka and Medina. These professions helped them earn a lot of money, and as a result, they held good fortune.
But, their status gradually decreased with the invasion of the English in India. Earlier, while transgenders were given the right to hold land possessions in their home, the British legislation removed it, because the properties couldn’t be inherited by the successive generation. During the 18th century, which marked the onset of the British colonization in India, the British couldn’t bear the respect that the transgenders enjoyed, which was superior to any other normal human being. As an outcome of their hatred, the colonial administration considered transgenders as a separate caste or tribe in different parts of the country. According to part II of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, transgenders were criminalized and also marginalized. The acts says that
- a register of the names and residence of all eunuchs residing in any town or place to which the Local Government specially extends that part of this act, who are reasonably suspected of kidnapping or castrating children, or of committing offence under section three hundred and seventy seven of the Indian Penal Code, or of abetting the commission of any of the said offences, and ,
- a register of the property of such of the said eunuchs as, under the provisions herein after contained, are required to furnish information as to their property.
This marked the evolution of a unique culture that transgenders hold as their special possession. During the second half of the nineteenth century, trangenders were denied of their civil rights.
After the independence of India, on the 15th of August 1947, situations with regards to transgenders didn’t get back to the normal state, but it certainly changed into a better form, but after a long time. On the 15th of April 204, the Supreme Court declared transgenders as the third gender. According to the report by Dhananjay Mahapatra, in the newspaper, Times of India, dated 16th April 2014, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice A.K. Sikri said that they direct the centre and state governments to take steps to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservation in case of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments. They also said that they include that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transporting quality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our constitution. The bench said transgender community had inviolable constitutional right to enjoy freedom of expression (Article 19) and right to live with dignity. The governments of modern times have implemented several policies and schemes to safeguard the transgender community.
The current modern world has also seen the emergence of queer theory, which was introduced in 1990 with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich and Diana Fuss, who were being its foundational proponents. According to Jagose, “Queer focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire. For most, queer has prominently been associated with simply those who identify as lesbian and gay. Unknown to many, queer is in association with more than just gay and lesbian, but also cross dressing, hermaphroditism, gender ambiguity and gender corrective surgery.
The definition of Queer, as proposed by Queer theorist Michael Warner is, “Social reflection carried out in such a manner tends to be creative, fragmentary and defensive, and leaves us perpetually at a disadvantage. And it is easy to be misled by utopian claims advanced in support of particular tactics. But the range and seriousness of the problems that are continually raised by queer practice indicate how much work remains to be done. Because the logic of the sexual order is so deeply embedded by now in an indescribably wide range of social institutions, ad is embedded in the most standard accounts of the world, queer struggles aim not just at toleration or equal status, but at challenging those institutions and accounts. The dawning realization that themes of homophobia and heterosexism may be read in almost any document of our culture means that we are only beginning to have an idea that sexuality is an essentialist category; something determined by biology or judged by eternal standards of morality and truth.
With the evolution of time, there are several movies in Hollywood, which came out of all the reservations and portrayed transgender characters in major roles. They also showed how they get to be treated when they reveal their change in attitude. Some of the Hollywood movies are Let Me Die a Woman (1978), which is a documentary film which featured interview with sex reassignment surgeon Leo Wollman and various trans-woman, Soapdish (1991) which showed a show star who is revealed to be a transgender woman, A Soap (2006) which showed the love between a trans-woman and a lesbian, and also Dallas Buyers Club (2013) shows a transgender woman dying from AIDS.
While there are several Hollywood films with transgenders, there are considerable amount of Kollywood movies also which show transgender characters, and even trans-women acting in them, and some of the movies are Kanchana 2 where actor Sarath Kumar, acts as a trans-woman playing a crucial role in the movie, Appu where actor Prakash Raj acts as a trans-woman playing the villain in the movie. In the movie, Murattu Kaalai, actor Vivekh plays a trans-woman comedian, and in Aadhi Bhagavan, actor Jayam Ravi, played the role of a transgender while in Viswaroopam, actor Kamal Haasan plays the character of an effeminate kathak dancer. Over a period of time, the approach towards transgenders is changing, and social awareness is brought about among the people, that transgendes are also human beings with feelings.
Transgenders are the people of gender who can neither be categorized as a male nor as a female. They have the physique of a male, while their behavior would be of a female or even vice versa, and this differentiates them and categorizes them as the third gender. According to science, the excess of male chromosome merging with the female chromosome, results in the formation of a transgender, neither a complete male nor a complete female. They can either turn from a male to a female or a female to a male. This study will focus on male to female trangenders and the culture that they follow, who make their living in Tamil Nadu, and more specifically Chennai.
They cannot be blamed to having been born that way, but they bear the brunt of being neglected by the society, and hurt gets established deep inside their hearts. They are seen to be a shame on the society, as they are physically male, but dress themselves as female and adorn themselves with jewellery, which is considered to be awkward by the society. They are not accepted by the society, and therefore, their parents also disown them, and that’s how they come together and form a society themselves.
Once a trans-woman steps out of her home, leaving behind her biological mother and her biological father, she is accepted by a society, which only constitutes of transgenders, and thus gets adopted by that society. This would give her a mother, and another transgender would adopt her as her daughter-in-law, and she would get an aunt in the same community.
The transgenders who the mother had already adopted becomes her sisters, and her mother’s mother would be her grandmother and thus, a transgender gets a family of her own. But the family is always of feminine relationships, and there is no place for masculine relationships in their community. When a transgender enters into a community, it becomes a responsibility of the mother who adopts her to train her in all the rituals and the culture of the transgender community, and this is how they have kept the rich culture of their community alive and cherished.
When they are together as a community, they have specific folklore which expresses their valor. Though they don’t have them in written form, they pass it on orally from one generation to the other. Their folklores are highly influenced by spiritual books, and historical happenings. The folklores that they share always have a male to female transgender, who have the power and the courage that a normal man or a usually don’t have. It would also express the power of accomplishment hat a female to male transgender has. Their main source of entertainment becomes the songs that they sing, and therefore apart from common songs, they also have songs which they particularly use for specific occasions. Those songs are taught to the successors very carefully, and they have songs to sing in their festivals too.
But these songs are highly relatable to the male to female transgenders. Their language is different from the normal common language of Tamil Nadu, Tamil, but they have high pertinence toward the language of Muslim community, and this is because of their reputed position during the Mughal rule in India. They also use a large number of Hindi words, and the reason for that is that most of them get trained in Mumbai. Though they don’t celebrate many occasions in their life, they have specific festivals and rituals which they consider to be highly important. The very famous festival that is known to society is the Koothaandavar Kovil festival. Other than that, they celebrate when they become transgenders, and also when a transgender successfully accomplishes her operation of transformation. They maintain all these as a part of their culture, and they value them as their treasured possessions, without any deviation. This study will examine from a social perspective, the unique traditions of trans-women, which incorporates specific folklores, songs and also festival and rituals, particularly owned by the community and passed on to their successors.