I stumbled across a beautiful four piece film series on Netflix, based in South India, entitled “Paava Kadhaigal”. This harrowing, raw film series depicts the ostracisation of transgender individuals, homosexuals, rape and those who fray from arranged marriages. Such ideals which we yearn to be considered the norm are shunned and still considered an euphemism in South Asia.
Such ideals are considered to bring shame upon a family’s honour, often leading to a dark fate of honour based violence and/or killings. I have a separate blog on honour killings, which you can read at: https://nireshanegotiates.wordpress.com/2020/10/11/honour-killings-killing-of-honour/
Out of the four films of Paava Kadhaigal, one that struck me the most and sorely pulled at my heartstrings was the first instalment of a transgender male/female, whose fate was sadly decided for him/her despite the beauty in his/her personality and love for his family.
This film has laid heavy on my heart and mind since I watched it, and I have questioned myself why transgender individuals face such ostracisation when their individual freedoms should be unquestioned, fundamental human rights.
COVID – 19 has deeply impacted the globe and its entire population.
No group in Indian society has had both their health and livelihoods so badly decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic as India’s fiercely proud transgender community, which numbers some 500,000, and dates back to the two ancient Hindu texts of the Kama Sutra and the Mahabharata in around 400BC
...reports the Telegraph.
Transgenders in India, also known as the “hijra” community have been legally recognised as a third gender since 2014, yet the deeply rooted crippling stigmatism against the community has lead to their utter ostracisation; leading the community to live in alienation. Many hijras are disowned by their families and turn to sex work to earn a living and to make ends meet. Sadly, this in turn often leads to members of the community suffering with HIV. India’s transgender community are 49 times more likely to be HIV positive compared to the general population, according to Avert, an HIV/Aids charity (ibid).
Though it might be a triumph on the surface, Human Rights Watch affirm that “India’s Transgender Rights law isn’t worth celebrating”. India’s new legislation in fact violates the very rights of the hijra community, as it dictates a fraught two stage procedure for members of the community to update their documents to reflect their identity. Within the legislation, members of the community firstly need to apply for a “transgender certificate”, which signals authorities to change one’s legal gender to male or female. The next, humiliating step, is that the said individual needs to provide proof of surgery, issued by a hospital official for a second evaluation by the District Magistrate. This step must be “satisfied with the correctness of such certificate” (ibid).
The very notion of mandating hijras to prove they can “qualify” for their updated legal gender recognition is appalling. In the case of NALSA v. India 2014, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that transgender people should be recognised as a third gender and should freely enjoy all fundamental rights, while also being entitled to specific benefits in education and employment. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan confirmed that “any insistence for [sex reassignment surgery] for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal” (ibid).
India’s flawed failures continue to lead many hijras to facing violence and persecution. Between 2018 – 2019, 59% of hijras experienced some form of violence; with up to 70% of hijras being attacked in South India.
To me, India’s legislation is an affront and facade that actually lends itself to the deeply rooted stigmatisation and humiliation that hijras face.
Euphemism of eunuchs
Eunuchs hold a very special status within Hinduism. India is a predominantly Hindu country and so it is somewhat peculiar that India’s third gender has the sanctity of religious protection but suffer in the cities of India.
There are over one million eunuchs in India, and India is the only country where the tradition of eunuchs is prevalent in society. A eunuch is a male who has been castrated, but in Hinduism, they are considered as “demigods“. In Hindu mythology, hijras are considered important figures of society, for their loyalty and identity, particularly in Hindu stories pertaining to Lord Rama.
Many Indians believe hijras have the power to bless or curse, and often hijras trade off this uneasy ambivalence. They are called to bless the birth of a baby; signify a couple at their wedding and pay respects to a lost, loved one, at funerals.
However in society, India demoralise and dehumanise these once considered demigods. Contradiction much?
My body, my rights
I truly find it absurd that we live in such a progressive world yet remain somewhat backward in our mentality. India is a powerhouse in its own right yet the manner in which its third gender is treated is heartbreaking.
The LGBTQ+ community suffer at the hands of cruel individuals and I think hijras should be celebrated in all their full glory. It pains me that one becomes any less of a person because of their choice of sexuality or gender recognition, when they should be able to fulfil their full bodily rights and human rights.
One heartwarming piece of news amidst the upheaval is that India opened its doors to its first university for the transgender community in 2020.
Guddi Kinnar, one of the members of the hijra community, said “I am happy that we will be educated and get respect in the society. Education has power and I am sure it will not only change our lives but also the lives of others,” (ibid).
However, with the uncertainty of the fate of the community as per India’s legislation, I fear that the fate as that of the main actor in Paava Kadhaigal is a brutal and raw reality for many hijras, under the surface.
My two cents…
A poignant line from Paava Kadhaigal that has been close to my heart is:
“When you can’t be yourself, not even among your own family, where do you go?”
My main qualm is that if charity begins at home, so should unconditional love. Families must embrace and fight relentlessly to stand by their children’s wishes, life choices and fate. With the backing of family unity and morale, the wider community perhaps can follow suit.
Freedom is equality and one’s gender or not fitting the status quo does not define their strength.
This article is written with information correct as at 22nd December 2020
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