Representation and Categorization: Understanding the Hijra and Transgender Identities Through Personal Narratives

Rajorshi Das
University of Delhi, New Delhi, India

Volume 7, Number 3, 2015 I Full Text PDF


Following the April 2014 Supreme Court judgment, several attempts have been made to define and specify what constitute the Indian transgender identity. My paper looks at Laxmi Narayan Tripathi’s autobiography Me Hijra Me Laxmi as an important intervention in this debate. Using literary and cinematic works by her contemporaries, I shall argue that while the categorisation of the ‘third gender’ may be necessary to facilitate governmental policies for the community, one has to look beyond law as a legitimizing tool as evident from the uniqueness of Laxmi’s ‘celebrification’ and its impact within Queer activism.

Keywords: Third Gender, Hijra, Laxmi, Transgender, Queer, Supreme Court, Celebrity, Testimony


In December 2013, the Supreme Court reversed the 2009 Delhi High Court judgment, reinstating the constitutional validity of Section 377 originally introduced in the Indian Penal Code by the British government in 1869 to criminalise all non-procreative sexual acts. The major grounds cited for the decision include the lack of prosecution under this law and the insignificance of a “minuscule fraction of the country’s population” (“Supreme Court Sets”, 2013) that gets affected by it. Consequently it came as a surprise when few months later the apex court in response to a writ petition filed by NALSA and supported by activists like Laxminarayan Tripathi (Dutta, 2014, p. 225) not only recognised the transgender community as the ‘third gender’ but also instructed the states to make reservation for them in employment and education sectors. While activists have questioned the inherent contradiction between these two judgements, I argue that it makes a significant (though unintelligent) distinction between gender performativity and sexual orientation. As Jasbir Puar (1998) writes –“one must interrogate not only how the nation disallows certain queers but perhaps more urgently, how nations produce and may in fact sanction certain queer subjectivities over others” (p. 414). Any definition of the Indian transgender is bound to be flawed and limiting unless understood from its cultural context. Aniruddha Dutta points out that the two judges in the latter case failed to come to any definite understanding of the transgender: while Justice Radhakrishnan relies on gender self-determination, Justice Sikri identities surgical evidence as primary criteria and restricts the label to the hijra community (p. 231). This recognition of the hijra as a gender endemic to India is at the cost of excluding those who identify themselves only by their sexual orientations- gays, bisexuals and lesbians.

As someone not belonging to the transgender community, I cannot claim to authenticate any of the experiences testified in Laxmi’s book. However, as a researcher, I can try and understand the various strands of the identity politics by looking at the representations of transgender bodies. My choice of texts like Laxminarayan Tripathi’s Me Hijra Me Laxmi (2015) and Rituparno Ghosh’s Bengali film Chitrangada: A Crowing Wish (2012) is guided their primary focus on the hijra and transgender subjectivities respectively and problematization of these identities due to the celebrity status of the artists/subjects. I will also consider A Revathi’s Our Lives, Our Worlds (2011)—a collection of testimonies based on the theme of izzat–since being written by a fellow hijra, it not only authenticates Laxmi’s narrative but also probes into the specificities while contesting any attempt to homogenize them under umbrella terms like ‘LGBT’. In this process I shall also explore the relationship between gender and genre as evident from Laxmi’s work that heralds a new form of life-writing…Full Text PDF

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