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Violence & Discrimination against Hijra Community in S. Asia

Violence and Discrimination against Hijra Community in South Asia

By Sazedur Rahman

Transgender is used to refer people whose identity, expression differs from their birth sex and who live between or outside a male-female binary [1, 2]. In South Asia transgender people are mostly known as hijra, considered neither man nor woman [3]. The word ‘hijra’ derived from Semitic Arabic root ‘hjr’ in the sense of ‘leaving one’s tribe’ and translated into English as ‘Eunuch’ or ‘hermaphrodite’[4]. Besides hijra, transgender people also known as Aravani, Aruvani or Jagappa in different areas in India and Pakistan [5]. Generally, they are born male, only a few having been born with intersex variations and do not marry[6, 7].

Ramayana and Mahabharata, two great epic of India, indicate the existence of a third gender in ancient Indian society[5]. The hijras were employed by Mughal rulers as care takers of their harem. About 1000000 hijras live in India, whereas there is no such documentation about the number of transgender people in Bangladesh and Pakistan [8].

According to Khan, S.I. et al, in Bangladesh, hijras are subject to harassments, abuse. They are socially excluded and can’t able to participate social mainstream activities as well as in family events. They are mostly humiliated and discriminated, denied in family, in school, in work and treatment places and in every stage of society throughout their life[9].

For various adversities and discriminations, hijras have to leave their own family and society. Denied from every sector including job market, they generally associated with dancing, singing (in social functions including wedding, feasts, blessings to new born child etc.), begging, prostitution for survival [5, 9-13]. People enjoy their dancing, singing, and behave like as they are matter of jokes. But mostly their pain and agony is not noticed [5]. Most land lords don’t agree to rent rooms to hijras and most often they have to live in slums, parks, stations as they are excluded from their family[9].

Sexual violence is defined as any sexual act that is forced against someone’s will. Statistics documenting transgender sex workers often face sexual violence by forceful unprotected sex. The transgender community, including transgender youth, transgender people of color, individuals living with disabilities, homeless individuals, and those who are involved in the sex work for earning livelihood has been found in higher level of sexual violence, abuse, assault and harassment [9, 14, 15]. Hijras don’t only abused by their clients but also face rape, sexual harassment from their friends in school-colleges, from relatives, neighborhood elder, and teachers [16]. It is reported that most hijras first sexual intercourse experiences at their early (eight-ten years) age[9]. This violence has a severe impact on their physical and mental health. Sexual violence increases disorder, anxiety, depression, taking drug, suicide and many harmful and acute physical diseases including HIV infection[17].

Next to South Africa, India is the second largest country with HIV/ AIDS in the world. About 57781 peoples here suffer from AIDS and about 4.5 million have HIV infection [16]. The prevalence of HIV have found statistically significant among hijras in India and is higher compared with heterosexual men [18, 19]. It is shown same result in Bangladesh and Pakistan that they are sexually abused and in higher risk of transmission of HIV [9, 20, 21]. A research demonstrates that 84% Pakistani hijras have sold sex. Among them 42% never used condom, 40% have experienced physical abuse or forced sex, 58% have used sexually transmitted infections, 38% have multiple infections, 50% have syphilis where 18% have gonorrhea disease which suggest more central role in Pakistan’s HIV epidemic[22].

Although, access to health care is a fundamental human right, it is constrained to transgender people due to their transgender status, their feminine behavior, HIV status. The physicians in South Asia have little knowledge about hijras health status. Transgender people frequently experience discrimination when accessing health care, from harassment to violence and outright denial of service[23] .Most of the hijras mentioned that they are addressed in a disrespectful manner from physicians and staff in a healthcare sectors [24]. Moreover, if a hijra suffer from STI, generally he can’t disclose it to the physician[9] . If they disclose, the doctors sometimes force them to show their anal and genital STI lesions to medical students so they can learn their health status[24].

The most tribulation phage of hijras life cycle is old age as they can’t operate sex trade, dancing and other activities for survive. This pain and frustrated situation being increased until death. Death can’t finish their abuse and dishonor chapter. After death, they can’t get religious rituals relating to the funeral as a normal person get. ‘The society, religious, and the state fail to ensure honour to the departed soul of a human being’[9].

Hijras suffer from unbearable violence, harassment, pain and humiliations while they are alive and even after death in South Asia. They are not treated as human being in family and society. Society and family should realize their physical and psychological problem. Government should arrange monetary assistance to the poor hijras and stipend to the hijra student, should develop public awareness program relating hijra community, build up knowledge regarding AIDS/STDs to them, should arrange the medical assistance for affected individuals. State should also enforce strict law to safe hijra community from any kind of violence and harassment. Change cannot come too soon for transgender people. As a part of human being if Government, family, society will support and advocate for the hijra community, they will get equal opportunity to lead a normal life and will equal part to succeed and thrive.


1. Johnson, C.A., Off the map. How HIV/AIDS programming is failing same-sex practicing people in Africa. 2007.

2. Herdt, G.H., Same sex, different cultures: Gays and lesbians across cultures. 1997: Westview Press.

3. Nanda, S., Hijras. 1994: Wiley Online Library.

4. Swararao, D., Hijra’s and their social life in South Asia. Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research, 2016. 2(4).

5. Sharma, P., Historical background and legal status of third gender in Indian society. International Journal of Research in Economics & Social Sciences, 2012. 2: p. 64-71.

6. Nanda, S., Deviant careers: The hijras of India. Deviance: Anthropological Perspectives, 1991: p. 149-171.

7. Herdt, G., Third sex, Third gender–Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. 2012.

8. Jami, H. Condition and status of hijras (transgender, transvestites etc) in Pakistan. in Sexualities, Genders and Rights in Asia’, 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies Retrieved September. 2005.

9. Khan, S.I., et al., Living on the extreme margin: social exclusion of the transgender population (hijra) in Bangladesh. Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, 2009: p. 441-451.

10. Abbas, T., et al., Social adjustment of transgender: A study of District Chiniot, Punjab (Pakistan). Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 2014. 3(1): p. 61.

11. Khan, S., Culture, sexualities, and identities: men who have sex with men in India. Journal of Homosexuality, 2001. 40(3-4): p. 99-115.

12. Herdt, G., Third sex, third gender. Nueva York: Zone Books, 1996.

13. Nanda, S., Hijras: An Alternative Sex and Gender Role in India'in Third Sex, Third Gender G. New York: Zone, 1993.

14. Grant, J.M., et al., Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. 2011: National Center for Transgender Equality.

15. Baqi, S., et al., Seroprevalence of HIV, HBV and syphilis and associated risk behaviours in male transvestites (Hijras) in Karachi, Pakistan. International journal of STD & AIDS, 1999. 10(5): p. 300-304.

16. Khan, S., MSM and HIV/AIDS in India. Naz Foundation International, 2004.

17. Jewkes, R., P. Sen, and C. Garcia-Moreno, Sexual violence. 2002.

18. Sahastrabuddhe, S., et al., Sexually transmitted infections and risk behaviors among transgender persons (Hijras) of Pune, India. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 2012. 59(1): p. 72-78.

19. Shaw, S.Y., et al., Factors associated with sexual violence against men who have sex with men and transgendered individuals in Karnataka, India. PloS one, 2012. 7(3): p. e31705.

20. Khan, S.I., et al., Not to stigmatize but to humanize sexual lives of the transgender (hijra) in Bangladesh: condom chat in the AIDS era. Journal of LGBT health research, 2009. 4(2-3): p. 127-141.

21. Reddy, G., Geographies of contagion: Hijras, Kothis, and the politics of sexual marginality in Hyderabad. Anthropology & Medicine, 2005. 12(3): p. 255-270.

22. Khan, A., et al., Correlates and prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections among Hijras (male transgenders) in Pakistan. International journal of STD & AIDS, 2008. 19(12): p. 817-820.

23. Grant, J.M., et al., National transgender discrimination survey report on health and health care. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2010.

24. Chakrapani, V., P. Babu, and T. Ebenezer, Hijras in sex work face discrimination in the Indian health-care system. Research for Sex Work, 2004. 7: p. 12-14.

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