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Books > History > Life of A Eunuch (An Investigative and Empathetic Study of Transgendered People in India, A Socially and Psychologically Victimised Community)
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Life of A Eunuch (An Investigative and Empathetic Study of Transgendered People in India, A Socially and Psychologically Victimised Community)
Life of A Eunuch (An Investigative and Empathetic Study of Transgendered People in India, A Socially and Psychologically Victimised Community)
Description

About the Book

 

Eunuchs are an extremely secretive community, adhering to their commandments. They are forbidden to talk about their lives or their community to outsiders, so information about them is very limited.

 

Under the leadership of a very senior 75-year old guru of Mumbai, Saira Bano Sheikh, eight eunuchs decided to document their lives, the hardship, exploitation and the harsh reality of bonded labour that is the sum of their lives.

 

The movie is based on true events in the life of one of India's 19 lakh eunuchs, Neha, who was born as Satish. It primarily features the actual eunuchs and locales involved.

 

The movie was initially not passed by the examining committee of the Censor Board. Subsequent to an appeal and corroboration of facts by other eunuchs, the movie was passed by the revising committee without 'cuts'. It has also been strongly opposed by some of the top gurus and nayaks of the eunuch community.

 

Foreword

 

It was a cool, crisp Diwali morning in November 2009 and I was in a joyous mood as I walked with my son Piyush to the neighbourhood sweet shop. I looked up at the azure sky and was struck by the beauty of the season, made even better for me since my children and grandchildren were spending the holidays with us.

 

Upon reaching the shop, Piyush went inside to buy sweets and snacks, while I waited outside, lost in my reverie. It is not often that our children visited us in Ghaziabad, UP and I was thankful to God for such occasions, when we got together and spent time with one another as a happy family once again. All of them had done well for themselves and yet found the time to visit us in our old age and address our occasional need that required their attention. How fortunate we had been to have such children, I thought to myself!

 

I was rudely jolted out of my trance by a rather gruff voice. Turning to face the intruder, I was again accosted by a hoarse voice. I realised that the voice belonged to an apparition that we usually refer to as 'hijra'. The hijra flashed a grin at me, revealing a stained mouth full of 'paan' and reminding me of the festive occasion, asked me for money.

 

I was reminded of what my parents, friends and just about everyone else had dinned into my ears since childhood - "Do not invoke their curses, they always come true." I had also heard horror stories about how they threatened to flash their genitals at those who did not give them alms. I instinctively shrank back and hastily reached into my purse, fishing out a Rs 2 coin, which I promptly forked over. The hijra gleefully accepted the coin and spontaneously blessed me, saying, "Ma, tere bachche phule phale (May your children prosper)." Then she sauntered off to join her mates, who were busy collecting alms from shopkeepers and other people on the street.

 

I was relieved at having escaped rather lightly, when I noticed Piyush standing next to me with a bemused expression on his face. He asked me if I had given alms out of my fear of hijras and I truthfully answered in the affirmative. Piyush mentioned that I was sadly mistaken in my belief, as were countless others who had similar apprehensions. He mentioned that hijras were bound by strict commandments, which precluded them from pressurising anyone or indulging in any criminal activity. I asked him about how he knew so much about them and it was then that he mentioned that he was writing a book about hijras or eunuchs, as they are referred to in English.

 

My interest was aroused. I requested him to let me take a look at the manuscript and he agreed to do so. After a few days, he returned home to Mumbai and I forgot about the event but Piyush kept his promise to me and I was rather surprised when a fairly voluminous parcel arrived for me shortly thereafter. Upon opening it, I saw pages upon pages of information, along with a lot of photos depicting hijras on various occasions. At first, my heart sank upon having to read so much material but gradually, my curiosity overcame my apprehension and I resolved to read the book. Only a page or two at first, which gradually increased to more as the days passed, I read on, fascinated by the information contained in the book. How could this be possible, I kept asking myself? The matter contained therein flew in the face of everything that I had heard until then and defied conventional wisdom. I decided to uncover the 'truth' and cautiously broached the subject to my friends when we met for tea in the evenings. I asked them about the various things that we had all heard about hijras and their community. I enquired at length with each and everyone of my friends about whether any of them had ever been threatened by hijras for money or 'flashed' by them upon their refusal to do so. I also asked them about if any of them knew about a family where a newborn had been forcibly carried away by them as was widely rumoured. Contrary to my expectations, I got an answer in the negative each time from all of my friends.

 

By now, I was truly surprised and a bit disappointed at having harboured such baseless negative feelings about the community for so long. Partly in order to clarify my doubts and partly to check if there was anything that we all know as the 'universal truth' about hijras, which could be affirmed by the book, I went through everything. Then I reread it once again at slower pace, to see if I had missed anything. However, not only did I find nothing to bolster my previously held misgivings about the community but the feeling gradually grew within me that here was a group of people who had been discriminated against and often viciously oppressed due to no fault of theirs but merely on the basis of baseless rumours and for the sake of vindicating the mistaken notions of the rest of us.

 

We are a species that loves to classify everything into neat categories. Thus, we have a 'summer' and a 'winter'; we evolved through the 'Bronze' age and subsequently through the 'Iron' and 'Industrial' ages, on our way to the 'Technology and Information' age. We segregate ourselves into discrete races, religions, nations, languages and regions, often bringing these diverse groups into conflict with one another. However, there is one distinction that is so deeply ingrained into our psyche and so fundamental to our thought process that we are never even consciously aware of it - being a man or woman and the fact that gender is a privilege.

 

Brought up as boys or girls, we position ourselves in society as men or women, assuming those qualities that are thought to be the domain of our respective sex. Thus, men are considered to be assertive, forceful and ambitious while women are supposed to be nurturing, caring and accommodating - the two genders at diametric opposites. Scarcely is any thought given to the existence of a continuum, a gradation of the scale where all qualities blend in various degrees to form a harmonious whole, the way that Mother Nature had intended us to be. A 'complete' man or a 'complete' woman is a fallacy, since no man is devoid of love and caring, just as no woman lacks ambition and drive. Yet every person is thought of as one of the other at a subliminal level, whenever we interact. We even attributed to our gender and suppress those that could be remotely associated with the other gender.

 

Preface

 

"Show me yours, I'll show you mine" - this is an innocuous exploration that children begin around three years of age. It is part of the growing up process that nature has instilled in us, an innate sense of specific gender identification/ differentiation, allowing boys and girls to form different groups and indulge in play activities specific to each. For Show me yours, example, boys tend to I'll show you mine indulge more in 'rough and tumble' physically active games like cops and robbers, war games etc, while girls prefer the 'thinking and feeling' types involving associations/relationships like doctor-patient, teacher-student, mummy-daddy, cooking with toy utensils, babysitting with dolls etc.

 

However, what of the child who is forced to form part of one group, while identifying innately with the other? The little boy, who prefers dancing to playing football, who likes to dress nicely and feels more comfortable indulging in 'girl speak' and hanging out with girls, rather than letting out war cries, chasing down enemy soldiers or robbers and wrestling them to the ground, is usually left out in the cold by both sides. He is generally regarded as too effeminate by boys and out of context by girls.

 

The confused boy's parents desire and hence push him to be strong and assertive, often trampling his feelings in the process. Parents of other boys tend to make fun of the poor child. Those of girls face discomfort and do not want the boy to form part of their daughters' groups. The child is forced into a state of withdrawal, not only due to rejection by the peer group but also more so by adults. Life becomes increasingly freakish for this little 'girl' trapped in a boy's body or vice-versa, so to speak and this sense of isolation and deprivation becomes even more acute as s/he grows up.

 

A turning point in life often comes around the time of puberty, i.e. between 8 - 14 years of age, when this child suffers from malfunctional hormonal development and consequently, cannot grow up to be either male or female, both mentally and physically. For most of them, the combined stress of abnormal physical and sexual development is so great that they run away from home, in an attempt to hide their disapproved behaviour and in a quest to discover the answer for themselves.

 

It is then that they are often pushed into the murky corridors of a parallel existence, where the members of the community lead a shadowy way of life. Years of enforced guilt and isolation has taught eunuchs to remain hidden, hoping that one does not discover their 'secret'. Little is known about them, even lesser about their community, adopted families, lifestyles and rituals or even their death. Tales of them abound, surrounded by myth and folklore. Those of us familiar with Indian mythology might have heard of Shikhandi and Brihannala from the Mahabharata but not much is known about this stigmatised and oppressed group.

 

We rarely give them a second thought, save for those moments of irritation when we come .across them waylaying us on the streets or standing in our doorways, appealing for alms and in the process, often offending our sensibilities. It is one thing to be born with chromosomal patterns or genitalia that are different from normal but quite another to be judged by others based on this. People should be defined by what makes us whole as human beings - our souls, thoughts and desire to contribute to others.

 

'Life of A Eunuch' attempts to unearth the answers to some of these issues, taking a dispassionate look at those that society at large struggles to grapple with. It addresses the fundamental question of why this rather complex issue is caused in the first place, the physical causes that lie at the core of this problem and how to identify the existence of this problem as the first step towards acknowledging it and perhaps addressing it.

 

The book proceeds to look at the different aspects of transformation from both male to female, as well as female to male genders, the medical procedures involved, as well as the socio-economic ramifications of such gender transformations. The study also traces the history of gender misfits, outlines the issues facing them in various countries and cultures, in an effort to gain a better understanding of the often insurmountable problems faced by such people. The book is replete with photographic testimonials and reports, which bring out the fact that these people are very similar to the rest of us, leading lives filled with emotions and desires just like ours. They can play meaningful roles in society, only if the rest of us stop discriminating and being judgemental and finally accept them as 'one of us'. We accept and sympathise with the deaf, dumb, blind and lame but not with the gender deprived, who do not even have a family, which is the unit of love, care and affection and is most needed for human life.

 

While sitting in judgement, we need to remind ourselves that they too need sustenance and have stomachs to feed. It is our discrimination that drives them to begging or worse. We have been primarily responsible over generations for having made them outcastes and forcing them to develop this way of life. Are there no goons, vagabonds, rapists or dacoits amongst us who are fully equipped with all natural faculties? It is the force of social circumstances, which generally make a man into what he turns out to be. If we spare no effort to bring normal outlaws back into the social fold, then why not at least give these disabled people an honest chance? I share my findings with you in the hope that this knowledge will result in a better appreciation of them. When shame, secrecy and isolation plagues people very much like us, a helping hand and community and peer support become the call of the day. I learned that theirs is a different world, far removed from ours but one which is deserving of being explored, written about and understood by society at large.

 

Life of A Eunuch (An Investigative and Empathetic Study of Transgendered People in India, A Socially and Psychologically Victimised Community)

Item Code:
NAG540
Cover:
Paperback
Edition:
2011
ISBN:
9788192026381
Language:
English
Size:
8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Pages:
536 (Throughout B/W and Color Illustrations)
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 700 gms
Price:
$25.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

 

Eunuchs are an extremely secretive community, adhering to their commandments. They are forbidden to talk about their lives or their community to outsiders, so information about them is very limited.

 

Under the leadership of a very senior 75-year old guru of Mumbai, Saira Bano Sheikh, eight eunuchs decided to document their lives, the hardship, exploitation and the harsh reality of bonded labour that is the sum of their lives.

 

The movie is based on true events in the life of one of India's 19 lakh eunuchs, Neha, who was born as Satish. It primarily features the actual eunuchs and locales involved.

 

The movie was initially not passed by the examining committee of the Censor Board. Subsequent to an appeal and corroboration of facts by other eunuchs, the movie was passed by the revising committee without 'cuts'. It has also been strongly opposed by some of the top gurus and nayaks of the eunuch community.

 

Foreword

 

It was a cool, crisp Diwali morning in November 2009 and I was in a joyous mood as I walked with my son Piyush to the neighbourhood sweet shop. I looked up at the azure sky and was struck by the beauty of the season, made even better for me since my children and grandchildren were spending the holidays with us.

 

Upon reaching the shop, Piyush went inside to buy sweets and snacks, while I waited outside, lost in my reverie. It is not often that our children visited us in Ghaziabad, UP and I was thankful to God for such occasions, when we got together and spent time with one another as a happy family once again. All of them had done well for themselves and yet found the time to visit us in our old age and address our occasional need that required their attention. How fortunate we had been to have such children, I thought to myself!

 

I was rudely jolted out of my trance by a rather gruff voice. Turning to face the intruder, I was again accosted by a hoarse voice. I realised that the voice belonged to an apparition that we usually refer to as 'hijra'. The hijra flashed a grin at me, revealing a stained mouth full of 'paan' and reminding me of the festive occasion, asked me for money.

 

I was reminded of what my parents, friends and just about everyone else had dinned into my ears since childhood - "Do not invoke their curses, they always come true." I had also heard horror stories about how they threatened to flash their genitals at those who did not give them alms. I instinctively shrank back and hastily reached into my purse, fishing out a Rs 2 coin, which I promptly forked over. The hijra gleefully accepted the coin and spontaneously blessed me, saying, "Ma, tere bachche phule phale (May your children prosper)." Then she sauntered off to join her mates, who were busy collecting alms from shopkeepers and other people on the street.

 

I was relieved at having escaped rather lightly, when I noticed Piyush standing next to me with a bemused expression on his face. He asked me if I had given alms out of my fear of hijras and I truthfully answered in the affirmative. Piyush mentioned that I was sadly mistaken in my belief, as were countless others who had similar apprehensions. He mentioned that hijras were bound by strict commandments, which precluded them from pressurising anyone or indulging in any criminal activity. I asked him about how he knew so much about them and it was then that he mentioned that he was writing a book about hijras or eunuchs, as they are referred to in English.

 

My interest was aroused. I requested him to let me take a look at the manuscript and he agreed to do so. After a few days, he returned home to Mumbai and I forgot about the event but Piyush kept his promise to me and I was rather surprised when a fairly voluminous parcel arrived for me shortly thereafter. Upon opening it, I saw pages upon pages of information, along with a lot of photos depicting hijras on various occasions. At first, my heart sank upon having to read so much material but gradually, my curiosity overcame my apprehension and I resolved to read the book. Only a page or two at first, which gradually increased to more as the days passed, I read on, fascinated by the information contained in the book. How could this be possible, I kept asking myself? The matter contained therein flew in the face of everything that I had heard until then and defied conventional wisdom. I decided to uncover the 'truth' and cautiously broached the subject to my friends when we met for tea in the evenings. I asked them about the various things that we had all heard about hijras and their community. I enquired at length with each and everyone of my friends about whether any of them had ever been threatened by hijras for money or 'flashed' by them upon their refusal to do so. I also asked them about if any of them knew about a family where a newborn had been forcibly carried away by them as was widely rumoured. Contrary to my expectations, I got an answer in the negative each time from all of my friends.

 

By now, I was truly surprised and a bit disappointed at having harboured such baseless negative feelings about the community for so long. Partly in order to clarify my doubts and partly to check if there was anything that we all know as the 'universal truth' about hijras, which could be affirmed by the book, I went through everything. Then I reread it once again at slower pace, to see if I had missed anything. However, not only did I find nothing to bolster my previously held misgivings about the community but the feeling gradually grew within me that here was a group of people who had been discriminated against and often viciously oppressed due to no fault of theirs but merely on the basis of baseless rumours and for the sake of vindicating the mistaken notions of the rest of us.

 

We are a species that loves to classify everything into neat categories. Thus, we have a 'summer' and a 'winter'; we evolved through the 'Bronze' age and subsequently through the 'Iron' and 'Industrial' ages, on our way to the 'Technology and Information' age. We segregate ourselves into discrete races, religions, nations, languages and regions, often bringing these diverse groups into conflict with one another. However, there is one distinction that is so deeply ingrained into our psyche and so fundamental to our thought process that we are never even consciously aware of it - being a man or woman and the fact that gender is a privilege.

 

Brought up as boys or girls, we position ourselves in society as men or women, assuming those qualities that are thought to be the domain of our respective sex. Thus, men are considered to be assertive, forceful and ambitious while women are supposed to be nurturing, caring and accommodating - the two genders at diametric opposites. Scarcely is any thought given to the existence of a continuum, a gradation of the scale where all qualities blend in various degrees to form a harmonious whole, the way that Mother Nature had intended us to be. A 'complete' man or a 'complete' woman is a fallacy, since no man is devoid of love and caring, just as no woman lacks ambition and drive. Yet every person is thought of as one of the other at a subliminal level, whenever we interact. We even attributed to our gender and suppress those that could be remotely associated with the other gender.

 

Preface

 

"Show me yours, I'll show you mine" - this is an innocuous exploration that children begin around three years of age. It is part of the growing up process that nature has instilled in us, an innate sense of specific gender identification/ differentiation, allowing boys and girls to form different groups and indulge in play activities specific to each. For Show me yours, example, boys tend to I'll show you mine indulge more in 'rough and tumble' physically active games like cops and robbers, war games etc, while girls prefer the 'thinking and feeling' types involving associations/relationships like doctor-patient, teacher-student, mummy-daddy, cooking with toy utensils, babysitting with dolls etc.

 

However, what of the child who is forced to form part of one group, while identifying innately with the other? The little boy, who prefers dancing to playing football, who likes to dress nicely and feels more comfortable indulging in 'girl speak' and hanging out with girls, rather than letting out war cries, chasing down enemy soldiers or robbers and wrestling them to the ground, is usually left out in the cold by both sides. He is generally regarded as too effeminate by boys and out of context by girls.

 

The confused boy's parents desire and hence push him to be strong and assertive, often trampling his feelings in the process. Parents of other boys tend to make fun of the poor child. Those of girls face discomfort and do not want the boy to form part of their daughters' groups. The child is forced into a state of withdrawal, not only due to rejection by the peer group but also more so by adults. Life becomes increasingly freakish for this little 'girl' trapped in a boy's body or vice-versa, so to speak and this sense of isolation and deprivation becomes even more acute as s/he grows up.

 

A turning point in life often comes around the time of puberty, i.e. between 8 - 14 years of age, when this child suffers from malfunctional hormonal development and consequently, cannot grow up to be either male or female, both mentally and physically. For most of them, the combined stress of abnormal physical and sexual development is so great that they run away from home, in an attempt to hide their disapproved behaviour and in a quest to discover the answer for themselves.

 

It is then that they are often pushed into the murky corridors of a parallel existence, where the members of the community lead a shadowy way of life. Years of enforced guilt and isolation has taught eunuchs to remain hidden, hoping that one does not discover their 'secret'. Little is known about them, even lesser about their community, adopted families, lifestyles and rituals or even their death. Tales of them abound, surrounded by myth and folklore. Those of us familiar with Indian mythology might have heard of Shikhandi and Brihannala from the Mahabharata but not much is known about this stigmatised and oppressed group.

 

We rarely give them a second thought, save for those moments of irritation when we come .across them waylaying us on the streets or standing in our doorways, appealing for alms and in the process, often offending our sensibilities. It is one thing to be born with chromosomal patterns or genitalia that are different from normal but quite another to be judged by others based on this. People should be defined by what makes us whole as human beings - our souls, thoughts and desire to contribute to others.

 

'Life of A Eunuch' attempts to unearth the answers to some of these issues, taking a dispassionate look at those that society at large struggles to grapple with. It addresses the fundamental question of why this rather complex issue is caused in the first place, the physical causes that lie at the core of this problem and how to identify the existence of this problem as the first step towards acknowledging it and perhaps addressing it.

 

The book proceeds to look at the different aspects of transformation from both male to female, as well as female to male genders, the medical procedures involved, as well as the socio-economic ramifications of such gender transformations. The study also traces the history of gender misfits, outlines the issues facing them in various countries and cultures, in an effort to gain a better understanding of the often insurmountable problems faced by such people. The book is replete with photographic testimonials and reports, which bring out the fact that these people are very similar to the rest of us, leading lives filled with emotions and desires just like ours. They can play meaningful roles in society, only if the rest of us stop discriminating and being judgemental and finally accept them as 'one of us'. We accept and sympathise with the deaf, dumb, blind and lame but not with the gender deprived, who do not even have a family, which is the unit of love, care and affection and is most needed for human life.

 

While sitting in judgement, we need to remind ourselves that they too need sustenance and have stomachs to feed. It is our discrimination that drives them to begging or worse. We have been primarily responsible over generations for having made them outcastes and forcing them to develop this way of life. Are there no goons, vagabonds, rapists or dacoits amongst us who are fully equipped with all natural faculties? It is the force of social circumstances, which generally make a man into what he turns out to be. If we spare no effort to bring normal outlaws back into the social fold, then why not at least give these disabled people an honest chance? I share my findings with you in the hope that this knowledge will result in a better appreciation of them. When shame, secrecy and isolation plagues people very much like us, a helping hand and community and peer support become the call of the day. I learned that theirs is a different world, far removed from ours but one which is deserving of being explored, written about and understood by society at large.

 

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