The third gender is a distinctive combination of gendered and biological specifications fortified by religion and bound by a tight-knit structure of the society. There has been a continued lack of acceptance and disputes against this gender in the past as well as in the present as the society continues to stigmatize them.
Controversies and the 3rd Gender
The controversies against 3rd gender continues to exist even when they are legalized by the law. The community’s continued efforts to retrieve their status in the society through social media and religion has also invited controversy. Gender neutral schemes still don’t work amid societal bars as they are not allowed to work due to gender violence etc.
Lately solicitor general Tushar Mehta in Delhi high court conflicted with a petition that attempted to recognize the right of same gender couples to get married under the Hindu Marriage Act saying that such concept isn’t recognized by the Indian culture.
History of 3rd Gender
However third genders have traced their records from the history in Southern Asia since the Middle Ages, as shown in the verses of Kama Sutra. From history to religion, they were always contemporary in the Indian culture.
- The Indian god Shiva is often represented as Ardhnarisvara, with male and female dual nature.
- Sikhandi who fought for Pandavas in the Mahabharata was born as a female but changed his gender later in life.
- Kama sutra talks about same sex union in chapter 9 which was composed around 400 BCE and 200 CE. As mentioned in the verse 2.9.36, it is apparently clear that Indian men used to perform sexual activities among themselves for favour/service/assistance with mutual consent.
- Hindu philosophy has the concept of tritiya-prakriti which l literally means third nature.
Historically, before the colonisation India signified a culture open to sexual awareness that can be traced back in the history to the 5th century Jain religious literary traditions, the 12th century Sanskrit texts such as Vatsyayana Kamasutram, the Sufist era of erotic poetry known as Rheki in the 13th CE and in the Mughal rule era of 17th CE.
3rd Gender in the Mughal Dynasty
Apart from Hindu culture, the Mughal Muslim dynasty which ruled over most of India from the 16th to 18th centuries, the 3rd gender community were often emasculated and became trusted guardians especially in the reign of Babur who himself as said in Baburnama, have loved men. During that period, some among that community also held prominent positions as, administrators, political and legal advisers, and generals.
Significance of the 3rd Gender
The members of this community are often called by Indian households during childbirth, marriage and several other occasions. This custom comes back from the epic poem 2300 year old Ramayana, which narrates the story of Lord Rama, who when banished for 14 years was followed by his subjects in the forest but he tells the “men and women” to return back to their city.
His followers from the third gender community not fitting in either gender felt untied by his order and stayed behind. Lord Rama who was touched by their loyalty granted them the capability to shower blessings at births, weddings and other important occasions.
Colonization and oppression of the 3rd Gender
The arrival of Britishers foisted Victorian sexual mores on the Indian culture i.e illegalizing the 3rd gender society. The colonists accused the community of prostitution, sodomy and castrating young boys. The third gender was seen by them as a multi faceted threat to political and moral authority.
The British illegalized the community under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, stripped them of their inheritance rights and started a campaign to remove them from public awareness. While they had been part of South Asia for thousands of years, their identity stood in danger at odds with western concept of gender and their morality.
This community in the British reign was forced to go underground. Since that period they have lived on the outskirts of society. They barely earned money by asking for donations voluntarily in exchange for their blessings by performing at household occasions and often engaging in sex work.
As children they were bullied and shunned by their families to be carried away by the 3rd gender community. The colonial state in India propounded control over them by building knowledge about them as untypical in order to criminalize them.
The colonists restricted their community by putting forward Section 377 and hence they had repercussions on their way of life and status within society. As the Britishers ruled the country for about 200 years such policing norms stigmatized the community with lasting effects among the whole society that can be seen in contemporary India too.
The case of the third gender community till date denotes their legal efforts and struggles. It shows how they are obligated by the law as it produces their identities and then tries to control them, which can also become a medium for prejudice. In contemporary India, the third gender are struggling to protect developing legislation that leaves behind genderism as well as the residues of detrimental prejudices dating back from the colonial time. With removal of section 377 from the law, there is a hope for a change.