Eunuchs of India


Colourful, loud, stranger than any fiction, with more fictitious  rumours about them than facts - Hijaras are a sight generally unique to India !

They are generally impotent men - men who are impotent from birth.
Normally they are identified as "impotent" soon after birth.  Hijaras usually visit the home soon after a birth to check if the baby is "normal".  If so, they are fine.  Eunuchs sing, dance, bless the baby and go.  Ofcourse, you have to give them some money !

If not, and the baby is unable to "get it up", or, if it a hermaphrodite and will have sexual complications later in life, they normally advise the parents to give the baby over to them.  They will look after the baby as their own.

Sounds odd, sounds cruel.  But it is a lot less cruel to do this than to let the boy grow up, marry, and than be unable to sexually satisfy his wife or provide children for the family to continue.

May sound like a horrendous idea to those sitting in the west, where each individual is afforded his own place in the sun and everyone has the same rights (or we are told !)

Its a different world when you don't have the security of government backed health and medical plans.   In India, there is no universal pension for the old people to rely on.  In old age you need family to support you - or else, you die.  Here, in the west, we are spoiled by old age care, good medicines, government pension etc.

In most of the world, that is not so.  People need their network of family and friends to survive in case of medical or financial crisis.  Old people need sons to look after them and care for them in their hour of need. 

Please don't give me "that's sexist".
Life is not fair. 
Daughters get married and go away. 
Sons get married and stay. 
They stay because they usually inherit the land / home.  They usually have to look after the parents.   Daughters have their in-laws to look after.


So, an impotent son is of little use to the family. 
Its a long term plan, not a short term emotional thing. 
In anycase, there is no compulsion.  Parents can say no and not part with the baby. 

Usually, in such cases, the child grows up and often finds himself attracted to the hijara way of life.  Their clothes, their mannerism etc.  Parents than have a greater heart wrench parting from a child / son that has grown up to adulthood and who now wants to follow a hijara way of life. 
Not a career any parent would choose for their son.

Sometimes impotent men may not go this route and may conceal their sexual inaptitude till after marriage.  Its tough though.  The girl may not know why she is not able to have children, and he may be cold to her due to his own frustration.  Its a mess.   Divorce brings shame on both families and its a tough thing to do - socially.   Re-marriage is not easy in many communities and both lives can be ruined.


Boys who have been handed over due to sexual "malfunction", grow up in a community where they are groomed from childhood to become hijaras.   They dress like women, learn to sing bawdy songs, dance, tell erotic jokes and have a licence to be generally lewd. 


Transvestites are men who are obviously fine in the sexual department, but love to dress up and may be bi or homsexual.  Such men become hijara later in life - often through choice.


Castration - a tough subject.

Sometimes, boys (growing up as hijara are castrated to make sure they do not develop deep voices or have lots of facial hair.  It also means they are than easily identifiable to non-hijaras.  (The only way to confirm a person is a hijara is to ask him to lift his skirts. If he has a penis, it should not become erect - messy  - but if there is no penis at all, its easier to identify !)

During the 80s, there were some prominent cases where boys from poor slums were kidnapped and forcefully castrated by criminal gangs so they could make money from these wretches - first as hijaras, and than as prostitutes.  Such gangs also used disabled children (they sometimes used to maim an able bodied child to maximise their begging potential !) to make money !  Such heinous trade in children has been largely stamped out, but no one can guarantee its gone forever.

Due to a public outcry, and pressure from the hijara community, such things (forced castrations of normal boys) is a rare thing.  Now, its usually a revenge attack on a son of your enemy, rather than a deliberate attempt to make some one a hijara for money.


Complication of being a Hijara

Even now, some people, may pretend to be hijara to make money.  They also use this as a pretext to rob ! 
Hijaras are "trusted" around families and usually have an easy time getting through security in building etc.  They can always say, "we are here because so and so has a baby / or there is a marriage and we are here to sing."  No one will stop them and so they get in.  Once in, if genuine, they will only do what they are there to do.

Thieves can (and often have !) pretend to be hijara, get in, steal and leave in broad day light !  Pretending to be hijaras, thieves sing and dance at a house with a new baby and than steal the gold jewellery worn by the baby !  Usually in such cases, the genuine hijaras help catch the thieves as their own reputation is at stake  !! 

So, if in doubt, people can and do ask them to prove their "status".  Usually, people are either scared or embarrassed by them and just give them small change to get rid of them quickly.

What the Hijaras used to do

Apart from sing and dance, they used to earn a livelihood by becoming servants in the women's quarters of the house.  In the old days, women of wealthy families had a separate "ladies only" area.   Hijaras worked in such houses as they could bridge the male / female divide in the house.  They could go out and do the errands, do the shopping for the ladies and also be their guards. 

Kings and emperors had them in their seraglio as trusted guards.  Some even became generals in the Moghal armies !

The other occupation open to them was that of massaging people and being professional "bathers".  The rich used to have hijara give them a massage, oil them and than bathe them in scented hot water.  Ordinary folk afforded themselves such luxuries on special occasions such as marriages, festivals etc.  It was in these professions that they were also able to indulge in their sexual gratification.  They could have sex with their customers (eg - during a massage / bathing session) without any feeling of guilt.

They could also become dance teachers and music masters.  The hijaras have ancient guilds that used to protect their rights to such occupations.   


What the Hijaras do now

Since all the old order has been thrown to the wind, many of their old professions are no longer theirs by right.  They are also poorer because no one now keeps them as house servants.

Their sexual gratification is also a mute point now.  Since the Victorian prudes out-lawed many of their activities, they now live on prostitution as a way of satisfying themselves and making some money.  Castration is useful for this too - as many prudish / macho men will not have sex with a person who has a penis, but will think nothing of having sex with a hijara with no penis. 

Sad, but true.

They see hijaras as pseudo women and hence they do not consider oral or anal sex with hijaras as gay sex.  "Men who have sex with men" is a term used even in UK to describe macho men who can not face up to their bisexual nature.  However, this has the inherent dangers of STDs and AIDS. 


Modern realities

As people have become more urbanised, there is no reason to hand over impotent children to hijaras.  Often, if a child is found to be impotent, the parents refuse to allow hijaras in the house in the first place, or, will move to another city to avoid a scandal.

As a result, the hijara community is shrinking.  They are unable to "recruit" members and even transvestites no longer want to live in the hijara community.  They can easily have a "normal" life for most of the week and than visit the hijaras when they want.  Satisfying themselves without being made outcasts in the general community.

With advent of AIDS, their prostitution days are also numbered.  They are finding the brave new world a very cold and harsh place indeed. 


As always, people cope.  They have now turned to politics to survive the new century.   As hijaras, they have no children or family members.  Ofcourse they live in much larger "community" and share a house with numerous other hijaras.   But, this is not the same as a family and so, they are suppose to be above "corruption".  Most politicians take bribes to that they can make a comfortable nest for their children / family.  As a result, they are often put up as the "clean" alternative to the greedy politicians with a large brood !

Also, there is no "honour" in winning against a hijara. 
There is plenty of shame though if you loose against one !

Its a calculated risk and I am sure more and more will come in to the political arena.


� Bhagwat    [email protected]


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