Becoming a Hijra in India is both dangerous, and also life fulfilling. There is no protection for Hijras in India, so they have to figure out ways to live safe lives without the government’s protection. The people who become Hijras are aware of this, yet they choose to fulfill a part of their lives that needs to be filled-the woman part. There are many ways that Hijras can become a part of the community, some are taken as children when they are born a hermaphrodite or have genital deformities, and others choose to run away from home at some point in their lives. They are unhappy living as men, or they just don’t feel like it’s who they are at heart.
Living as a Hijra does become somewhat easier when they come to a community of Hijras. Most Hijras live in communities composed almost entirely of Hijras. Inside these communities there are families. They are fictive kinship families, but for the Hijras, most of who are abandoned by their families, they become their family. Each family has a head of the family, a Hijra who is older and more knowledgeable, called a ‘guru’, and their “children,” or ‘chela,’ younger Hijras who they have taken in. There are mother-daughter, sister-sister, and all sorts of other female relationships within one community. Because most are abandoned by their families when they become a Hijra, the community replaces what they lost.
Along with being abandoned by their families, most Hijras also had childhoods that were confusing and unhappy. They felt like girls, yet their parents told them that they were men. “My childhood was torture,” says Xavier Ammal, a Hijra. She had to leave her family at age 13 because her parents didn’t want a ‘woman’ for a son. When they return to visit their families later in life, most families pretend they don’t have a child, or simply refuse to see them. Luckily, the Hijras still have their fictive kinship families to return to. These communities are the safe havens for the Hijras, and are the only place they are pretty much safe.
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