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Hijras: the ""Third Gender"" in Pakistan

OUT in the Himalayas

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
8:00 PM–9:30 PM

Hijra Bijli and Chicago-based poet and Pakistan News editor Ifti Nasim will engage in a dialogue about living as a member of the “third gender” in the Moslem state of Pakistan.

On the bottom rungs of Pakistan’s social ladder, the eunuch-transvestites or “Hijras” scrape out a hard existence. Historically Hijras were members of the Mughal Empire court. Today they earn their living as beggars, dancers, and prostitutes. Though often reported on in India, the Hijras of Pakistan are relatively unknown outside of that country. Most Pakistani cities have sizable Hijra communities, divided into clans living mostly in slums and presided over by a leader or guru.
Hijra means hermaphrodite in Urdu, but most Hijras are homosexual transvestites, some of whom have gone through a crude sex-change operation. The Hijras are both feared and pitied in Pakistan, feared for their supposed ability to place curses, pitied for being outcast children of Allah. Most Hijras leave or are ejected from traditional Pakistani families around puberty and then join the Hijra community for life. Many have also reported that Hijras will kidnap young men, forcibly castrate them and force them into prostitution, gaining income for the community.
More Hijras, however, earn their living by begging and by dancing at carnivals, weddings, and births. To provide a living detail of the Hijra experience will be Bijli, a dancing Hijra. Sharing the stage will be Ifti Nassim, Chicago-based poet and inductee to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.