Journey through Bangladesh
Zindagis Want Recognition and Respect
THE Zindagis have returned after a whole lot of suffering and humiliation. They were supposed to have a music and dance program all night. The previous night, Firoze Miya, an employee at the passport office had come and promised them an all-night party. However, an objection was raised by the local Imam and Firoze could not go against the Imam's wishes. Firoze Miya had no choice but to disappoint the Zindagis.
Gobindpur is only four kilometers from Comilla city. That is where the Zindagis currently reside. Laxmi, Madhuri, Shukla, Sunil, Bhabna, Pinky, Nippy and others live there. More than 200 hijras live in Comilla. They are scattered all over- Mogoltuli, Shashongacha, Shatra, Rammala, Kaliyajuri, Dhulipara and Gobindpur. Gobindpur is the only place where there is over 70 of them. There is no social status for hijras in this country. The only way for them to make a living is through begging and prostitution. They are classified as neither males nor females. Society then, has no proper category for them. They are rejected whenever they appeal to society for some respect. Many of these people take hormones in a desire to transform their own bodies, to develop breasts. Even though there is some curiosity in mainstream society about this community, there is mostly fear and suspicion.
A hijra is a man who has decided to live as a woman. There is no proper estimate of how many of them exist. According to the hijra organizations “Badhon Hijra Shangha” and “Shustho Jibon”, there are about 20-25 thousand of them in Bangladesh. Banglapedia says there are anywhere between 30 thousand to 1 lakh 50 thousands hijras in the country. Guruma Zikkir Bibi says a lot of people assume hijras were born hijras. Their parents hide them from the eyes of society for as long as they can, ashamed of their 'sexual anomaly'. At one point these people 'come out' and start living the way they do. However, in reality there are many who simply decide to enter this community because of hardships they suffer in life, economic or otherwise. Some are forced into it. They leave their old family and find a new one. They all have to be castrated, according to the rules. Many of them try getting this operation done in the hands of quack doctors and die. So there are only just a few properly castrated hijras out there.
Dr. Rokhsana Hossain Zeba who works at John Hunter Hospital in Australia is of the opinion that everybody is part male and part female. There is a chance of being born a hijra if there is a problem with the genes. If hormonal imbalances can be spotted in a young child, he can be treated in Bangladesh. The child can be brought back to 'regular' sexuality.
Hijras don't have to listen to anyone's orders. However there are customs within their community that they have to follow. The hijras in Bangladesh are predominantly Muslim. There are some Hindu ones too. The community is an amalgam of all the religions that are out there. They are buried in accordance to whatever religious background they came from. However, this is done secretively. They want to avoid any sort of possible conflicts regarding whether or not to treat the dead body as male or female.
Bangladesh is so far quite undeveloped in terms of recognizing this third gender and giving them rights and an identity in society. But they are citizens of the country. There has been some attempt to draw attention to this issue in parliament, or to classify these people as 'physically handicapped' and give them voting rights.
A lot of terms are being used to identify hijras- transgender, transsexual and third gender. Life, for them, is a tremendous struggle. Abuse is hurled at them from all directions. Nobody is sure what the fate of this community is. However, they keep on hoping, that one day they will get some respect.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008