Friday, March 7, 2008


Astrid and I went for free HIV tests at a wonderful place called Humsafar Trust, an NGO dedicated to the gay and hijra (eunuchs, yeah, the ones missing the pipper) community in Mumbai. Their motto: "a holistic approach to the rights and health of sexual minorities and promoting rational attitudes to sexuality". A helpful staff gave us well written literature about HIV, sexuality and the services available at Humsafar Trust. They encouraged people to come and simply sit in the lounge to watch TV. We got invited to the Friday night gathering where they have fashion shows, dances and other entertainment.

I don't know much about the hijra. I have to admit a certain animosity because of how the ones I met make their money. They're said to have the evil eye and that's quite a profitable thing. I see them on commuter trains in Mumbai and working cars at red lights but the true cash cow seems to be the long distance trains (maybe because Mumbaikers simply aren't that superstitious). On the trains, you see two or three hijra enter a train together. They dress in saris and some have obvious five o'clock shadows while ones with more effeminate features appear quite attractive. They apparently also work the oldest trade in the world but I really don't know anything about that. In the trains, everybody gives them ten rupees to ward off the evil eye but, on the other hand, they do provide a healthy dose of entertainment on an otherwise boring ride.

I struggle with this because I detest them making money off a silly superstition but what else can they do? There's no job for them unless they hide their sexuality. Nobody will hire someone in a sari with a gruff voice and an adams apple. It's a tough situation. On a more positive note (though still superstitious), they get hired for weddings, baby showers and other happy events to ward off evil spirits. Apparently, clients have the right to make sure they have a true hijra and woe to the person faking. So there's the little I know. Exploring this world sounds like a great story to me. We'll see what happens.

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