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Gender failed them, but grit helped them live with dignity

Sunday, 9 September 2012 - 4:50pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: DNA
These members of the third sex show how they overcame difficulties to chart their own path.

You won’t find them begging at traffic signals or stripping to embarrass people into coughing up money. Yes, they are Hijras, but Hijras with a difference. Soon after living among their community, they realised they would rather return to their homes and earn a livelihood by dignified means. Here’s a glimpse into the space they have carved for themselves:

‘The Biggest Mistake of My Life’
Rakesh Vaghela had a lot going for him in Rajkot. But despite a 70% in HSC, Rakesh preferred the companionship of Hijras to college life, and moved out of home to stay with the community. Always yearning to dress like a woman, Rakesh took on the identity of Archana to make the transformation complete.

Today, Archana, who prefers to be identified in the feminine gender, wears saris and salwar-kameez and does a 10am-6pm job as a computer operator at a mall on SG Highway. Three persons, including her paternal grandmother and aunt, survive on her salary of Rs5,000 per month. It was not always like this, though. After spending three years living among the Hijra community, Archana wanted none of it. 

Clad in a black sari and speaking in polite undertones, Archana says she would like to delete every chapter of her life among the Hijras. Recalling the times when she lived like a nomad, surviving on alms, she says life in the Hijra house was hell. “The biggest mistake of my life,” is how she sums it up.

Archana says everything was in place and she was loved by her fellow Hijras until she went in for a castration. She says her fellow Hijras felt there was no way out for her now, and began treating her badly, even stealing the money she used to earn through begging. “I had to pay haftas to my guru and the other fellow Hijras from my hard-earned money,” she tells DNA. Finally, she decided to move out.

The anchor of her family
Everybody in Makarba village of Sarkhej knows Sajanben. Her grocery shop is quite popular. And Sajanben can take pride that taking the road less travelled has paid off. Born a male, his parents had noticed his inclination to dress like a girl even as a kid. So it was hardly surprising when Sajanbhai Prajapati made the shift to Sajanben. Though she never underwent castration, Sajanben adopted the Hijra way of life since childhood.

“My parents respected my views and I soon become a devotee of Bahucharaji [the goddess worshipped by the Hijra community].” Sajanben was clear she would never beg for a living. She started with a humble grocery shop. Today, her shop has expanded, she owns two cars, has her own house and has even helped her brothers set up their shops.

Sajanben is a pillar for her family. “Nothing in my family moves without my permission,” she says. Though she lives with her parents, she makes sure to donate large sums of money to Hijras who come begging at her shop.

Threats won’t change her mind
After a year of living among the Hijras, Sona (name changed) moved out. She works as a skilled labourer at a small workshop in Vejalpur.

The younger of two brothers, Sona says the Hijras always fascinated her. After living with them for just three months, she decided to undergo castration. But that was the turning point. “I was neither a male, nor a female. My gurus thought since I had no options left, I would live with them for the rest of my life. But I refused to accept their dependency and decided to leave the Hijra commune,” she says.

Sona currently lives with her parents in Vejalpur. “It is difficult for anyone to accept me as I am, but I don’t care," she says with a smile.

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