Call Me Heena
Hijra, a South Asian term with no exact match in the modern western taxonomy of gender, is a person designated as a male at birth with feminine gender identity who eventually adopts feminine gender roles. They are often grossly labeled as hermaphrodites, eunuchs, transgender or transsexual women in literature. Presently, a more justified social term for them is the Third Gender. Transcending the biological definition, Hijras are more a social phenomena, as a minority group having a long recorded history in South Asia. However, their overall social acceptance vary significantly in countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Perhaps the Hijras in Bangladesh faces the worst situation, forcing a good number of them to leave their motherland and migrate to India.
Previously, a particular Hindu belief that Hijras can bless one’s house with prosperity, was assimilated in the Muslim culture of Bangladesh. But times have changed and Hijras have lost their admired and often sacred space in the society. Now they make a living by walking around the streets collecting money from shopkeepers, bus and train passengers or by prostitution.
I, like almost everyone else in my society, grew up seeing them as less than human. Then on a project work during my student years I met Heena, who showed me how wrong I was. She opened her life to me, made me a part of her world and helped me to get close to the other members of her community, as mothers, daughters, friends and lovers, as they actually are.