Transvestites in South Asia: fall from grace
Hijras(transvestites) in South Asia identify themselves as female
though most are born biologically as males, maintaining social status as a
‘third sex’. Hijra identity is unique to the Subcontinent and has no
Western equivalent. Hijras once enjoyed an exalted status as devotees of
the Mother Goddess Bahuchara Mata. They were patrons of fertility,
counselors to kings and bodyguards to queens. Nowadays, in a society where
they seem to have no place, most find employment only as prostitutes.
In Pakistan, an Islamic country where homosexuality is strictly
forbidden, Hijras are recognized as one of the major vulnerable groups
with regards to HIV/AIDS. In one of study conducted on this
marginalized group, 80% admitted they had never used a condom; 79% of
Hijras had heard of AIDS, but beyond that, 42% did not know how it was
transmitted. This shocking lack of knowledge, lack of protection,
coupled with their promiscuous behavior puts a serious risk on these
destitute transvestites on top of their status as social outcasts. They
are frequently beaten up by police for even carrying condoms –something
that is a crime in Pakistan. Such is their sense of shame and
humiliation that some Hijras interviewed said they did not wear condoms
because HIV was divine punishment for their immoral activities.
Discrimination against those who trespass gender boundaries occur
around the world. However, when state and religion refuse to support them,
such groups are driven underground and further away from public health
interventions. Better health for transvestites must start with accepting
them as part of mainstream society. For violence to end, neglect must go
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Competing interests: No competing interests