Back in the day we would run away as we were told to stay away from the ‘Hijras’. Who is a ‘Hijra’? Well, before I knew the scientific term for it, I would just recognize them as women, who did not look like ordinary women, roaming the streets wearing saris and speaking in male voices. Like me, most children were raised to be afraid of Hijras. As we grew older we would use the term ‘Hijra’ as slang to make fun of our friends. Let’s just say no one liked being called a Hijra in Bangladesh.
Growing up, I would always hear my classmates and friends say how they were attacked by Hijras and they were forced to pay money to get rid of them. I always wondered why, as they mentioned in their stories, that this group of people would always blackmail passing strangers and demand money. As I grew older, I realized in a country where women were still discriminated against, it was only fair to assume Hijras were society’s untouchables. Everyone loathed them so much; most of them never received an education let alone were accepted enough to be part of the workplace.
I remember when I was in middle school; a lot of us would ask our ‘wiser’ friends, what was different between a man and a Hijra or a woman and a Hijra. Putting aside all the crazy myths I was told by the wiser ones, biologically Hijras are hermaphrodites or transgender. For those of you who may not know a hermaphrodite is an individual who possesses reproductive organs of both males and females.
While there are many organizations in Bangladesh that are working hard to start a dynamic LGBTQ movement, sadly they still have a long way to go to ensure recognition and rights to everyone in the LGBTQ community. Hijras are not only outcasts of Bangladesh’s society, but they are also victims of people’s offensive remarks, rejection and abuse. However the everyday suffering and discrimination that these human beings face has not gone unnoticed. November 2013 marked the day when the Parliament of Bangladesh recognized them as the third gender. And it was specifically mentioned that they would remain to be referred to as ‘Hijras’ for purposes of both English and Bengali (the mother tongue of Bangladeshis) documents. Even so their passports would identify them as Hijras.
This is the first step, rather a great leap, for Bangladesh to take such a strong stance. Many believe, this first step will lead to a more acceptable society. A society, where those who are different will not be abused or forced to live as outcasts. Soon these Hijras will receive the same rights that every citizen has in Bangladesh. Personally, when I reflect on this fortunate change of events, I feel privileged to have lived in a time where a horrendous slang turned into a normal adjective. I am hopeful that many years from now when the future generations of Bangladeshis hear the term ‘Hijra’ they will not associate any negative feelings or intentions with it. I am hopeful that this one step, by a conservative and developing country that is struggling to lift itself up in the world, will inspire many other countries to accept those that are different within their communities.
Many people do not know where Bangladesh is. Bangladesh is not an economic super power and is far from being perfect. But I take great pride in saying that along with Germany, New Zealand, Australia, India, and Nepal; Bangladesh is among the list of the first few countries that recognize the third gender.
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