One has always bristled when the media captures the stories of Hijras contesting for seats during the elections in the most sensationalist, offensive and unhelpful manner. They call them the “odd man in the race” and seem stunned by the fact that the hijras would have any interest in politics. It makes me wonder what notions of being a hijra are being assumed by the media that leads them to think of them and politics as two domains that are exclusive. Hijras do not reside in caves locked away from the world — it would be hard for the police to harass them there — they too drink water, use buses, and mediate the high prices of food in the face of poverty. There is a history of hijras participating in the politics and I am not talking about yesteryears where they held important positions in the small principalities in the pre-colonial times — I am talking of much more recent times.
The All India Hijra Kalyan Sabha fought for over a decade to get voting rights, which they finally got in 1994. In 1996 Kali stood for elections in Patna under the then Judicial Reform Party and gave the Janata Dal and the BJP a bit of a fight. Munni ran for the elections as well from South Bombay that year. They both lost, but that is not the point; the point is that 13 years of Hijras participating in the political rigmarole should be enough for everybody to get used to the idea and to take the proposal seriously instead of dismissing it under offensive headlines.
After the defeat of Kali and Munni, three years later we saw Kamla Jaan run and win the position of the mayor of Katni in MP. Then there was Shabnam Mausi, who was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2002 as well. In the huge political machinery, Heera won a seat at the city council of Jabalpur, Meera won a similar position in Sehora, and so did Gulshan in Bina. In December 2000, Asha Devi became the mayor of Gorakhpur, and Kallu Kinnar was elected to the city council in Varanasi. I am sure there are many more low level, inconspicuous bureaucratic positions that were held by the hijras but did not whip up any excitement for the media — not to mention the cases where they were probably threatened, bullied and killed to prevent them from running for seats. This brings us to the current elections, which has Mangesh Bharat Khandye running for the Thane Lok Sabha seat.
When the media does report hijras running for seats during elections, their tone of
surprise undermines this entire 15 years of history of the hijras taking part in the political process; always voraciously and often successfully. The point they seem to miss out is that some of these hijras — Kamla Jaan, Asha Devi, Shabnam Mausi won elections, they were elected to their seats — why would this happen if they had nothing substantial to say, nothing substantial to do. And what’s more Kamla Jaan even got jubilant reviews for her work as the mayor of Katni — she had fixed bus stations, sunk tube wells, and fixed
My point is that one needs to see how worries regarding safe water, proper drainage and bus stations form the entirety of everyday concerns for a large part of the country — even when we speak of blindingly shining India. Hijras by their marginal position in society (poor, harassed, ill treated, facing the hatred in all “respectable” eyes) can see what is going wrong with the country — wrongs that rarely make the headlines if it does not affect the middle class. Asha Devi and Kamla Jaan were removed from their position two years ago because they had contested elections as women as the seats were reserved for women and the law did not think they were women. The intelligent thing would have been to legislate and reserve the seat for non-males and give more people an equal chance as this country preaches but rarely practices.
I am sure everybody knows this myth from the Ramayana. Rama was followed by men, women and hijras to the forest where he was exiled. When he came to the river that separated the kingdom and the forest he had asked all the men and the women to return and they did so. The hijras remained and they waited for 14 years and Rama, then blessed them by making them the rulers during kalyug. I have no reason to believe that this is not kalyug. There are dogs that bark in sequestered hate about chopping the hands of the Muslim citizens of the country and in contrast, what the hijra politicians are offering seem much more appealing.
— Vaibhav Saria is a doctoral student
at Johns Hopkins University researching
HIV and AIDS in India. He can be contacted