Friday, August 7, 2009


Prompted by the headline in the weird news this morning that "Eunuchs begin fight for Pakistani rights," I wanted to point out that eunuchs in India have been demanding their human and civil rights for years. The word eunuch is rather ambiguous. The dictionary definition is a castrated man, which means that the testes have been removed. But the eunuchs of India, who call themselves hijras and are estimated to number between 500,000 and 1 million, are a community of transgender and transsexual individuals. They are considered a "third sex," and experience profound discrimination in education, health care, and employment. They have a relatively high level of cultural acceptance in the country (although they are often harrassed and humiliated), but this is not reflected in India's laws, which demand that citizens identify as male or female, ban surgical emasculation, and bar hijras - who identify as females, but are considered male under the law - from holding elected office in positions set aside for women. Indian eunuchs are forced to dance, beg, or prostitute themselves to make a living, though some work or train in more socially acceptable positions in an effort to integrate themselves into the mainstream. The lives of eunuchs in India are improving, however, as more of them enter politics and states like Tamil Nadu take steps to assure their basic rights. The hijras are organizing and mobilizing. "They are also human beings. They should be given the opportunity to lead a normal life."

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