Man, purposes and God disposes.
In some cases, your own friend takes you for a ride. You trust him and pay a price for it. Sometimes, your luck betrays you. But human spirit refuses to give in and somehow manages to reach its destination.
At the destination, more often than not, we realise that all happens for good ultimately. The changed scenario rewards you with new experiences which helps to change your outlook and attitude towards a particular community.
The year was 1976. I decided to avail my Leave Travel Concession, also called LTC, a privilege extended to central government employees, to go on Bharat Darshan tour, anywhere in the country. The purpose is to familiarise yourself with different parts of your country.
I was working in All India Radio at that time. I was in the Reporting unit. We were a team of correspondents, and I was a new face there.
I booked three berths in first class railway compartment for Mumbai, Bombay at that time. I requested one of my senior colleagues covering Railways to help me get three berths from VIP quota. He said, no problem, it will be done.
I will speak to Railway Press Relations Officer. When are you leaving, he asked. Tomorrow, evening sir, was my reply. Next morning, I checked with him, and he assured me that three berths were reserved for me and my family in the first-class compartment.
Next day, we reached the New Delhi railway station well in time. I made my wife, Uma and daughter Shafina sit on a bench on the railway platform and went to check the reservation chart. Our names were nowhere in the chart. I rushed around in search of Ticket Collector in the hope that our names might have been included at last minute. Sorry sir, he said, your names are nowhere.
The train is full and there is a waiting list. I conveyed the bad news to my wife. She was crestfallen. Even, my little girl started crying. But my wife was not the one to give up. She said, wait, have faith in god. Miracles do happen.
As the train was about to leave, a young boy, about 18 years old, came to us and said, do you want seats in unreserved compartment. You just pay 60 rupees a seat. I said, what if we pay you and there are no seats. His reply was you pay only after you sit on your seats. My three partners are already occupying them. True to his word, three boys got up from seats, one of them window seat and made us sit there. They took the money and vanished. We thanked our stars.
We were on our way to financial capital of India. It is also the dream city of film stars, known as Bollywood. As the train was about to leave, six Kinnars entered the compartment.
Same boys who got us seats were with them. The boys collected money from the Kinnars and left the compartment. It was for the first time in our lives that that I and my wife were travelling with Kinnars. Initially, we were apprehensive and scared. But they floored us with their good manners and earthy humour.
They took a particular liking to my four-year-old princess who was fair with big eyes and curly hair like a doll. All of them were wearing women attires.
One of them, a tall Kinnar with powerful personality was their guru. As the conversation went on, I told them that we had first class tickets but could not manage reservation. Their reply took us by surprise.
They had air tickets for Mumbai but missed their flight. Mind you, it happened almost 45 years ago when air travel was a costly affair. Now for the next twenty hours, we were in the company of Kinnars.
It was an experience of lifetime for us. We normally do not carry home food while travelling. We prefer eating outside during journey period. Our friends Hijra as they are called in Hindi, carried food in a huge steel tiffin box, which had six compartments. It was a clean, glittering tiffin box.
Before serving their food, they asked if we had any reservation in sharing food with them. We said we have no such reservations, but we will get our food at next railway station. Their guru said in good humour, fine than, you share our food, and we will share yours. Believe me, it was tasty, delicious and sumptuous food. They even shared sweets with us.
They showered their affection on our daughter and gave her extra goodies including chocolates. We even played cards together to pass time. Their attitude and mannerism was quite Bindaas. Youngest of their group was a 20 years old chirpy Kinnar. You could call her pretty. She was sitting next to me and while sharing a joke, she often touched me and even back slapped me.
Most of them would talk moving their hands in air, rolling their eyes and sometimes using abusive language. All in good fun and humour. Their guru even extended us invitation to visit their haveli where many of them lived as a community. We thanked them for their hospitality and nice company as the journey ended. But I had many questions in my heart.
In the year 1976, Hijras/Kinnars were treated as outcasts. They did not have equal rights to education, employment and medical care. Things changed for the better for this community in the year 2015 with Supreme Court ruling in their favour.
The Supreme Court recognized the country's transgender community as being in a third neutral category — neither male nor female.
In handing down the ruling, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan said, "Transgenders are citizens of this country and recognition as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue."
Article 15 of India's Constitution guarantees that no state can discriminate against citizens on the basis of religion, caste, race or sex.
The decision by the two-judge bench applies to what in India are traditionally known by the Hindi word hijras. The term is loosely used to include eunuchs and transvestites. The court stated, "transgender is generally described as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to their biological sex."
Here are excerpts from Supreme Court judgement: I quote, “Seldom, our society realizes or cares to realize the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex.
Our society often ridicules and abuses the Transgender community and in public places like railway stations, bus stands, schools, workplaces, malls, theatres, hospitals, they are side-lined and treated as untouchables, forgetting the fact that the moral failure lies in the society’s unwillingness to contain or embrace different gender identities and expressions, a mindset which we have to change.
After the judgement of The Supreme Court of India, in 2019 a bill was passed in the Parliament for the enhancement of the living conditions of the transgenders in India. This bill was passed by both the houses, i.e., Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The main purpose of this Act was to bring upliftment, protection and sense of equality as ensured by the Supreme Court for the Transgenders. But unfortunately , this Act was completely vague in nature. People in general have many mis conceptions about this community. The third gender community finds mention in the Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic literature.
They have also been part of Kamasutra. Ancient literature refers to Kinnars along with Apsaras and Gandharva as expert dancers. They also played prominent role in the royal courts of the
Islamic world. There are also references to Kinnars employed as Harem keepers by the Mughals. Various International Forums and U.N. Bodies have recognized their gender identity.
Kinnars are referred to as Hijra/Eunuch or Transgender people. They live in communities that follow a kinship system known as guru-chela system. The hijra community in India prefer to call themselves Kinnar, referring to the mythological beings that excel at song and dance.
In Pakistan, they are known as khawaja sira, the equivalent of transgender in the Urdu language.
Starting in the 19th century, hijras were targeted by British Colonial
authorities who labelled them as a criminal tribe. This encouraged anti-hijra sentiments throughout the Indian subcontinent.
Many hijras today live in well-defined and organised all-hijra communities, Many work as sex workers. They are integral to several Hindu ceremonies, such as dance programs at marriage ceremonies. They may also earn a living by going uninvited to large ceremonies such as weddings, births, new shop openings and other major family events, and singing until they are paid or given gifts to go away. The ceremony is supposed to bring good luck and fertility, while the curse of an unappeased hijra is feared by many. Hijra often engage in prostitution and begging to earn money, with begging typically accompanied by singing and dancing.
Recently, hijras have started organisations to improve their social condition and fight discrimination. The Supreme Court has expressed concern over transgenders being harassed in society and said, "it was the right of every human being to choose their gender." It directed the government to bring them into the mainstream, ordering it to set aside quotas for jobs and education for transgender individuals, bringing them in line with the benefits already afforded to other minority groups and lower castes. The court said hijras will be entitled to "all other rights," including passports, voter cards and driving licenses.
Plight of transgender's was highlighted longtime back by veteran film actor, Amir Khan through a television serial, Satyemev Jayate. Theme of the serial was that Kinners are human beings like any of us and should be treated with love and dignity. In recent times, television and cinema have been espousing their cause. Recently ,The six pack Kinner band performed at Cannes film festival to the tune of song, Sab Rab Ke Bande. Performance was highly appreciated by the audience. The band members also appeared on popular comedy show of Kapil Sharma to thundering applause by the audience. In another instance, one of India's first trans-beauty pageant winner Nitasha Biswas was with Chef Kunal Kapoor on the set of famousTV Food show , Yellow Table . Programme received huge positive feedback.
Awareness about the cause of transgender's is spreading. Supreme Court has declared discrimination against against transgender community illegal.
But will this inhuman practice end is far from certain. Formidable obstacles remain in the way as sexuality is perceived in India. What is needed is strong legislation in favour of third gender and multi pronged campaigns to create social awareness in their favour. Sooner it happens ,better it is. Hope and prey, wo subah kabhi to ayegi.