By Dipali Trivedi & Gitanjali Srivastava
BOSTON–SETU’s upcoming production “Seven Steps Around the Fire”, a play written by Mahesh Dattani, and directed by Subrata Das, brings up the important social issues of social exclusion and identity crisis of the hijra (Indian transgender) community via murder mystery thriller.
What is it about the third gender- the Hijra, that evokes fear, suspicion, intrigue, and reverence? The hijra community is said to go back to antiquity. Some call it the oldest trans community in the world. While recognition of genders outside male and female has only recently been discussed in Western societies, in Hindu society, people of non-binary gender expression have played important roles for over 2000 years.
Called the third gender, evidence for their existence in Hindu society can be found in Hindu mythology like the Mahabharata, where Arjuna becomes the third gender. Third-gender people have often been revered throughout South Asian history.
The most ‘hijras’ defining characteristic is leaving home to become a part of the hijra community, a community that removes itself from wider society and teaches its lessons in secret. A young person is initiated by following a guru, or teacher, who will teach the chela, or disciple, in the hijra ways of life.
This includes leaving their home to live in a community with other hijras, and to learn the ritual roles that they perform. Hijra is expected to perform dances, songs, and blessings at both births and weddings.
Since the British colonization of India hijras has gone from being adored as divine to being treated as deviant. 200 years of stigmatization by the British ostracized them from society.
In 2014, it was estimated that around 3 million third-gender people live in India alone. While hijras have maintained their traditional rights and responsibilities at births and marriages, they are almost always excluded from employment and education outside of their ritual roles. They face entrenched stigmatization in society as a result they are often stricken by poverty and forced to resort to begging and prostitution to survive. They are often victims of violence and abuse, harassed by police, and refused treatment at hospitals.
To gain an insight into the life and struggle of the Hijra community, we invite you to a panel discussion on 12th November at 4 pm. We are fortunate to have two distinguished panelists who are transgender women of the Indian South Asian diaspora living in the United States. Panelists will share real-life experiences, traumas, struggles, and attempts at assimilation and inclusion.
Anjali Rimi (She/They) is a transgender, immigrant woman from the Kinnar community. She is of South Asian Indian origin and is based in San Francisco. Anjali is the president of Parivar Bay Area (www.parivarbayarea.org), America’s only Transgender-led, South Asian Queer organization helping many communities including the chitai community back in India to get an education, medical care, and employment opportunities. She serves on numerous boards in organizations serving the LGBTQ communities in the Bay area along with congressional recognitions from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Scott Wiener, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
Lana Patel (she/her) is an Afro-Indo-Caribbean Hindu woman from New York City who has relocated to Southern California. She serves on the board and as the Vice President of Parivar Bay Area (www.parivarbayarea.org). Lana is currently the PR and Government Liaison for Plume, a digital Healthcare company for trans people made by trans people.
Tickets are available at https://setu.us/.