Jill Peters




Nirvan, the Third
Gender of India

The term "hijra" applies to a very diverse group of people in India who identify as third gender. They can range from a natural born hermaphrodite to a male cross dresser. Dating back as far as the Kama Sutra by some estimations, hijras were both revered and feared as powerful entities who lived between the sexes. They were believed to bestow good fortune and fertility by dancing at weddings and the births of children. Over the course of history their status and usefulness in society survived centuries of historical evolution. Within the last 150 years, as western prejudices have encroached upon Indian codes of sexual morality, the hijras have fallen precipitously from grace.

Today, hijras live on the margins of society. They face severe harassment at the hands of the state and the wider population. Police brutality and sexual assault are common. Because hijras are generally seen as unemployable, they have resorted to sex work and begging for survival. This creates a catch-22 whereby their reputation as second-class citizens is further stitched into the fabric of society, and they find it difficult to escape this endless cycle of dehumanization. This dark prospect, however, has done little to stem the tide of young boys who are irrepressibly drawn to the big cities by their innate femininity.

My intention was simply to portray them as the subjects of beauty and grace they so desperately wish to be, as if their path to nirvana had not been impeded by a century and a half of prejudice and intolerance.


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