‘Hijra’ is a term particularly used in the South Asian countries which refers to the eunuchs, intersex and transgender people. Hijras, the people who identify themselves neither as men nor as women physically and mentally, are officially recognized as ‘third gender’ in these countries. Perhaps, while travelling in the city, you have come across hijras many times who bother people clapping their hands loudly and asking some money from them. Probably, sometimes you have also given them a coin and have seen other people making fun of and laughing at them. But have you ever thought for a moment about the real situation of these people’s lives? How do these people actually lead their day-to-day life facing such a harsh discrimination in the society? How do they feel when they are looked down upon or made fun of by the common people while walking along the streets? In fact, very few people pay attention to these things while the harsh reality of their life, which is full of turmoil, pain and difficulties, remains beyond common people’s ken.
However in our society these people are sternly marginalized people. They are excluded from the mainstream social, cultural, religious, professional and political life. Whereas they have no family life or conjugal life or any social status, they are largely deprived of their fundamental rights and needs which are essential to life at the same time. For instance- it is alleged by many hijras that they face difficulties in renting a house in the city. The house owners are hardly willing to allow hijra people to rent a flat. Actually, it happens because the owners fear that if they allow hijras in their flats, then the other tenants may not like it and even leave their houses. Next, there are also allegations that when hijras go to the doctors, the doctors are also unwilling to examine and provide treatments to these transgender people only because they are hijras. On the other hand, the transgender people are usually deprived of the right of inheritance. In other words, they cannot get the proper share of their paternal property. If the situation is same everywhere, then where will these people go and how will they live in the society?
Meanwhile, it has been found in some recent statistics that there are at least ten thousand transgender people (hijras) in Bangladesh, while Badhan Hijra Sangha, an organization working for the rights of hijras, claims that there are nearly one lakh hijras in the country. However, isolated from the society, deprived of their basic rights, forced to lead a life devoid of self-respect or dignity, these people have now taken up some unwholesome means of earning their living. Although hijras in the rural areas usually earn their living by singing and dancing at weddings and other celebrations, in the city areas they are often seen begging money from the passengers and shopkeepers. Besides, according to some sources, a considerable number of hijras are now involved in sex trade. Well, traditionally transgender (Hijra) people did not sell sex. In the past hijras had a semi-sacred status and were invited to bless married couples or newborn child. But with the passage of time and change of social and cultural context, the majority of them have now been reported to have helplessly succumbed to this inauspicious profession. Nevertheless, they cannot have a full share of their own earnings because they usually have a guru, to whom they have to submit their earnings and ask for all kinds of security and shelter.
Unfortunately, the transgender people (hijra) often have to face identity crisis in the society. When interviewed by newsmen, some hijras said that they really feel embarrassed to identify themselves as men or as women. Then, an unusual thing is that these people have a different voice and manner of speaking. So, people commonly tend to look at them in a strange way and mock them in great delight which make it difficult for them to travel in public buses or shop in the shopping malls. Apart from that, they also face discrimination while going through any official activity. They also complain that although there is a separate option (others) for them on the passport, they cannot make use of it because there is no such option for other genders in the birth certificates and in NID cards.
Although hijras are usually subject to these discriminations and social harassments, constitutionally there is no room for creating any discrimination among the citizens in our country. It is so because the essence of Bangladesh Constitution is to ensure the protection of fundamental rights of every citizen. Hence it is mentionable that Article 27 of the Constitution says that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law while Article 28(1) further provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the basis of religion, race, caste or sex. Therefore, hijras, the third gender citizens of this country, have every right to live here as the common citizens and avail themselves of all kinds of educational, professional, legal, and political facilities.
In the meantime, it is a very commendable initiative on the part of Bangladesh government that it has recognized the transgender or hijra people as the ‘third gender’ in 2013. The cabinet approved a “policy decision” in order to identify hijras as people of a separate gender or the third gender and to secure their rights. After that our government also issued a gazette notification regarding this policy on 16th January, 2014. This policy aimed at enabling the hijra people in Bangladesh to identify their gender as “hijra” or as ‘third gender’ in all government documents including NID cards and passports. And the hijra people can now appear in the voter list of the country. Not only Bangladesh but also a number of South Asian countries, i.e., Nepal, India and Pakistan have legally recognized the transgender people as the third gender and guaranteed their equal rights. In 2009, the supreme court of Pakistan had ordered the Pakistan Government to recognize a separate gender for Pakistan's hijra community. Besides, in 2014 the Supreme Court of India has also guaranteed equal rights for their transgender community to have access to education and employment and gave the right to vote in the election.
Despite all these legal initiatives the state of hijras has not changed for better yet. Well, if our government really wants to improve the life of the hijra people and ensure equality for the hijra community in the country, then it must ensure a few things for them. For example, a hijra child should be allowed and encouraged to receive education at the educational institutions and even receive higher education. Then, the government should allow them to have an access to government and non-government employments, because if they do not grow up intellectually, learn proper manner or attain their financial freedom, then they can hardly be expected to join the normal social life or overcome the troubles and sufferings of their life. After that, government and media can take initiative to create social awareness so that people behave with them with respect and help them attain their self-dignity as a citizen of this country.