In the natural course of scientific investigation the Naturalistic approach through inductive reasoning is essential to study issues while considering person to person variations, for identifying and implicating causes. The present study was initiated by conducting in-depth interviews. These interviews provided us with the information that probed the need for further qualitative investigation through focus group discussions. The main themes identified in the interviews are provided in the following text (Table
Profiles respondents of In-depth interviews
Childhood and early life: realization of a difference
Contrary to the popular myth that gurus demand custody of a child born with ambiguous genitalia, most of these children spend their early childhood with their families till they start demonstrating inappropriate behaviors based on gender identity. At this point in time they start experiencing repercussions from their family members in the form of physical and psychological reprimands. As narrated by one of our respondents: “Since I was a child I had a fascination with dolls, makeup, jewelry and wearing my sister’s clothes. I used to help my mother with the daily chores and she loved me the most for my polite nature, but my father and brothers often beat me up and made fun of my ways”.
Hijras as children are many a times socially excluded by their own family members, who consider them as a cause of disgrace and stigmatization for the whole family. Many Hijras claim that they have “a woman’s soul trapped in a man’s body”, and this characteristic was identified by most respondents at a very early age. Most of the Hijras spend a disturbing childhood where the battle for an identity is always haunting their conscious and subconscious practices. Most of these children get home schooled but those who are fortunate enough to undergo formal schooling, end up as drop outs because of social and sexual victimization. As recalled by one hijra: “I joined school when I was 5 or 6 years old. I was sent to an only boys school. I used to stay alone as I had no interest in the harsh games that the other boys played. Often the school guard showed compassion towards my loneliness. I always called him ‘chacha (paternal uncle)’, and respected him a lot. But one day he tried to make me touch his private parts, I ran home and told my father about it; who beat me and prohibited me from going to school”.
A new beginning: the world of hijras
A predominant number of our respondents were introduced to the Hijras way of life early in their teenage years. These encounters took place mostly at wedding and childbirth ceremonies where Hijras had been invited to dance for the entertainment of the guests. This open display of feminism by these apparently masculine looking people attracted most of the respondents towards their way of living. They considered it as a life style where they could freely search for a true gender identity and “Be who they really are”. Many respondents claimed that their personal encounters with the hijra community initiated through brief social visits paid to the residents of the hijra households in their vicinity. The accepting and affectionate attitudes of the Hijras proved to be a major pull factor for these young susceptible minds. As a respondent narrated; “I used to visit the baitakh (residence) of the hijra group that lived two streets away from my house. Every time I went there they served me sweet meats and soft drinks, they dressed me up and put make up on my face. This was the best time I had while I was growing up. This world of the Hijras was where I found inner peace”.
Life as a hijra: away from the mainstream
The hijra way of life is governed by strict laws of social hierarchy, where the Guru is the head of the household, employing the role of a spiritual leader and influencing the lives of his Chelas (subordinates), in every way. The hijra household usually comprises of the guru at the top and five to ten Chelas who work and live under one roof. The guru usually enjoys privacy in his own room and is referred to as “Ammi Jee (Mother)” in most circumstances. The guru is the main decision maker of the family unit, all the Chelas are expected to provide their earnings to the guru who utilizes these finances for running the daily expenses of the household, in addition to providing the Chelas with pocket money. The main heads of expenditure are spent on house rent, electricity and gas bills and for transportation and preparation of functions. Some of the money is also spent on the entertainment of guests and clients. The guru achieves this social status of respect and dignity by giving up his sexual practices and on the basis of age and seniority. As one guru said that; “I used to sell sex when I was young and attractive, but as I grew old and ugly no one desired me. We had a few Hijras in our group who wanted to become my Chelas instead of our old guru’s, so we moved to this new location where I am the guru now. I stopped having any more lovers because how can I lead my Chelas if I do the same work as them. Besides being the guru feels nice I get to pass orders which all my Chelas follow”.
Khusrapan vs. Zananapan: two schools of thought
During our initial interviews we got acquainted with the two predominant fashions in which different groups of Hijras function. The Khusrapan (Hermaphrodites) way of thinking was found in people who had a guru who was a true hermaphrodite. This group traced its roots to the early history of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. According to them they originated from the Khwajahsaraas of the Mughal dynasty. This group considered commercial sex work and beggary to be evils haunting their community, and thought of these practices as a menace to the exalted status, they once enjoyed in the society. The Khusrapan followers thought that it was inappropriate for them to indulge in sexual practices and only depended on finances generated through alms given by people in return for their prayers and blessings. One respondent stated that “A real Khusra would never spread his hands or legs in front of anyone, all of these sex workers and beggars are imposters, ruining our good name”.
On the other hand the Hijras belonging to the Zananapan school of thought had totally different views. In the hijra vocabulary Zananas are those men who are born with male bodies but choose to live and look like women. Most of them sell sex and perform beggary on the streets. According to a follower of Khusrapan; “These men try to hide their homosexuality under the cover of being Khusras”. The Zananapan folk think otherwise and claim that they are women at heart and because of the fact that the society shuns them they have no other option than to sell sex and beg people for a living. As one of the Zananas said that;” I am a woman at heart and every woman desires love from a man”.
Living environments and social contacts
The Khusrapan school of thought enjoys a respectable place in the society; the local populations refer to them as ‘Baba’ (the respected one). It is a common belief that as they are “Incomplete beings”; neither whole men nor women, they hold a very respectable place in the court of God almighty, and that their prayers are well heard. Also there is an element of fear associated with this group. There is a popular myth that if one is cursed by a hijra, there is nothing that can undo it. Because of their inconspicuous behavior and the fact that they mostly remain indoors, the Khusra group of hijra’s does not enjoy the amount of attention that the more flamboyant ‘Zananas’ attract, during their displays of exaggerated feminism, in their pursuit of financial benefit. Khusras dwell in confined communes, living mostly on alms and charity; which the surrounding population donates. Every household, no matter how poor they are, considers sharing their meals with them to be a great privilege. Households of these Khusras were beautifully decorated. Some had pictures and paintings depicting their exalted status in the Mughal Empire. A majority of Khusras lived in a family house, which was transferred down generation after generation; a few had paying guests as well.
Zananas on the other hand, live in commercial areas, mostly residing in single room dwellings in dingy back alleys. No one ventures into those areas except for innocent children, who have no idea about what’s going on there, and their clients. These localities were full of homeless drug addicts who resided in open spaces and slept on the streets at night. Many of the Zananas accepted the fact that they used recreational drugs once in a while, although only a small number claimed of trying injectable drugs. People in the locality seldom visited them, some of them even forbade their children and families to go visit or develop cordial terms with them. Their immediate neighbors were mostly migrant men or laborers, who during the day were busy earning a living for themselves and would come home only to spend the night. There was no amiable relation between them what so ever. Most of the Zananas denied knowledge about their neighbors, and did not seem very interested in them, as one of the respondent stated: “I live in my own world. The only relationship I like having is with my friends and my lovers (clients). If one of my neighbors wants to have me, he would have to pay my price”.
People living alongside these dwellings see them as a nuisance to the pious Islamic way of living. Some of them even go to the point of ridiculing them so that they would leave the area. Some of the respondent claim that they have been beaten up or verbally abused when they step out of their homes. One of the Zanana recalled: “I remember when I shifted to my current home, there were many Zananas who were doing business here, but now most of them have left, because the ‘molvi sahab’ (religious leader) instructed his followers to beat up any Zanana they saw. The followers weren’t brave enough to do so in public but did resort to throwing stones at our doors and giving us threats. They even set loose dogs on one of my fellow Zanana. She was seriously injured”.
Contact with the original families: loved ones left behind
Majority of the respondents interviewed had no or minimal contact with their original families. This trend was more prevalent in the Zananapan school of thought. When questioned about their original families, most of the Zananas denied having visited their family members in the past year. They did, however, admit to the fact that they missed their family members and sometimes tried contacting them on the phone. One of the respondents, rather sadly recalled: “I loved playing with my sisters when I was a child, I had three of them and they loved me too. But now it has almost been 15 years since I last saw them. I have tried to contact them numerous times, but they never answer my calls. I just wish to see them only once before I die”.
Khusrapan school of thought, on the other hand, claimed to be in full contact with their original families and relatives. Some of them even had their siblings visit them frequently at their homes. One of the gurus of the Khusrapan school of thought said: “I am not ashamed of who I am. My family members realize the fact that I am different but they still love me. My younger brother got married last year and he invited me to his wedding. He also came to visit me with his wife once. I am thankful to God to have given me such a supportive family”.
Exclusion from occupational opportunities: selling sex, loosing respect
The role of Hijras in our community has evolved over the years. Starting from the Mughal empire where they were keepers of the ‘Harem’s’ to the current day scenario where they sell their bodies for a source of living. This transition, to some extent, is not yet complete. One can still find the remnants of the old culture scattered across the population. These hijra’s identify themselves as followers of ‘Khusrapan’. As stated earlier, this group does not indulge in commercial sex work. Their major source of income is alms and charity. Some of the Khusras even find this degrading for them and would rather prefer earning a living by their own hand. One of our respondents ran a hair cutting salon for ladies in the city and was proud of it. Some of them did tailoring on a small scale while others had tried their hand in salesmanship. But there were many accounts of Hijras being disapproved of doing proper jobs for the excuse of them being inappropriate, as stated by a respondent: “I never wanted to be a sex seller. In the start, when I left home I tried to work in a small barbershop in my village. But I was forced to leave because the owner of that shop tried to molest me. Then I came to the city and started working as a helper in a ladies salon. The owner was a very friendly old lady who later on took me in as her apprentice. I am very grateful to her as it’s because of her that I can earn a fair living for myself”.
Zananas showed a completely different perspective. According to them, our society itself would never let any Khusra earn a fair living, according to a Zanana: “Men will always see Khusras as sex symbols and would want to have sexual relations with them. They see us as a cheap source of entertainment. Even when we go out to buy food, they think that we are out to gather clients. How can we work in such a hostile environment? My guru explained this to me when I was very young and I have learnt with experience that he was right”.
Commercial sex work is not the only occupation that Zananas have. They are also famous for their dances. Many Zananas dance as a hobby and are especially invited to weddings and other ceremonies to dance for the amusement of the guests. These arrangements are very productive financially for the Zananas as they are paid heavily for them. One of the Zanana respondents tried to justify this claim by saying: “I don’t enjoy having sex with strangers. I prefer dancing at weddings as dancing is the love of my life. But sometimes my financial conditions get so bad that I have no other choice but to sell sex”.
Future aspirations: chained dreams
Most Hijras from the Khusrapan way of life believe in a bright future and have made up targets to achieve in the form of religious and social achievements. One respondent said that “I have always dreamed of performing Hajj (Holy Pilgrimage to Mecca) and I am also planning to adopt a child. I just love children, they make me smile”. On the contrary, most Zananas considered their future to be very unpredictable and bleak. They were full of tragic events about people similar to them. Many thought that being deprived of an actual family was the root cause of these problems. In our conversation with an elderly abandoned guru whose Chelas had left him, he responded as: “Back in the days when I used to be young, everyone knew me, I had many lovers but as I grew old all my Chelas left me one by one, I don’t know where my real family is, I sleep on an empty stomach on many a nights. It is like the only thing I expect of my future is death”.
Death in isolation: going away quietly
In the Pakistani society Death is a ceremony, starting from the final moments of the life of the deceased and going on for forty days. Even after that, the death anniversaries of loved ones are celebrated year after year, without missing visits to the graveyards on special occasions. Contrary to these socially acknowledged events of death and beyond, the Hijra community performs the death ceremonies of their fellows in a very secretive manner. The funerals are carried to the graveyards in the middle of the night when everyone else in the vicinity is fast asleep. These ceremonies are carried out quietly in the dark of the night with no or minimal attendance from neighbors or other acquaintances. Some Hijras mostly belonging to the Zananapan way of thought even go to the extent of defining death of a fellow as an occasion to celebrate, because the life on this earth was tough and judgmental, while the life beyond would be fair and without hurtful experiences, for God does not hurt his creatures like people do.