Mainstreaming Third-Gender Healers: The Changing Perceptions of South Asian Hijras

Pooja Jagadish

Abstract


Mainstreaming is the act of bringing public light to a population or issue, but it can have a deleterious impact on the individuals being discussed. Hijras comprise a third-gender group that has long had cultural and religious significance within South Asian societies. Described as being neither male nor female, hijras were once called upon for their religious powers to bless and curse. However, after the British rule and in the wake of more-recent media attention, the hijra identity has been scrutinized under a harsh Western gaze. It forces non-Western populations to be viewed in terms of binaries, such as either male or female, and it classifies them by inapplicable Western terms. For example, categorizing a hijra as transgendered obfuscates the cultural significance that the term hijra conveys within their societies. Furthermore, media representations of hijras cause consumers to view themselves as more natural, while hijras become objectified as occupying a false identity. This has caused them to be pigeonholed within the very societies that once legitimated their existence and respected them for their powers. With their cultural practices being seen as outmoded, and their differences from Western people be- ing pointed out in the news and on television, hijras have faced significant discrimination and ridicule. After providing a discussion of relevant Western and non-Western concepts, I seek to describe hijras and the effects of mainstreaming on their lives. Finally, I offer a critique of cur- rent research on this population and provide solutions to improve their plight.

Keywords


Third-Sex, Third-Gender, Hijra, Mainstreaming, Culture, Sex, Gender, Eunuch, Serena Nanda, Gayatri Reddy

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15695/vurj.v9i0.3798

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