Samkit Shah (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
International Picture Story
The hijra or eunuch transgender community in India is a very large one. Hijras are born male, but identify as females and some of them choose to undergo a painful castration in order to become ‚nirvana‚ or a complete female. Some people in society call them the third gender and most of them are unaccepted in Hindu society or at the most forcibly accepted. In Mumbai, most hijras choose prostitution as a means of income to earn their livelihood. In many ways sex work is the only option because no one is willing to employ them.
Urmila, left, puts on finishing touches to her make-up as a prospective client in the background checks her out. She works in a brothel in the red-light area of Mumbai, owned by her guru or spiritual leader. They have a very unique leader-pupil hierarchy and are not considered hijras if they don't have a guru.
Ravi is a young boy that still lives with his parents but identifies himself as a hijra. Like the other thousands of hijras in India, he too realizes that although he is born with male genitalia, in his heart and soul he is a female. He thus chooses to secretly spend time with them whenever possible.
Zeenat, bottom, a hijra (eunuch) sex worker with a client at her brothel in central Mumbai. She is the owner of this brothel, where MSM activity (Men having Sex with other Men) continues to be practiced for a mere $1. With the numbers of HIV/Aids cases rising at an alarming rate in India, those caused by MSM or other homosexual activity seems to be underestimated by most people.
Simran came to Mumbai from Hyderabad about 10 years ago after her family did not accept her as a hijra, a male to female transgender, in India. After having survived the tortures of sleeping on the side walks and begging for alms for years she now works as a prostitute to make a living. She now lives in a road side slum with Imtiyaz, a taxi driver, who is also her boy friend.
Simran, left, talk to her friends who work the nights with her. They often visit her once a week and talk over a cup of tea.
Manisha, left, visits Zeenat's house on the day of Rakshabandhan, a traditional Hindu festival where a sister ties her brother a rakhi or wrist band seeking his protection. The hijras also celebrate this festival among themselves; only in their case it involves a hijra tying the band to another hijra.
Simran prepares to leave for work as Ravi, a young boy who identifies with the hijra community, and Imtiyaz, her boyfriend watch her put on a saree. Simran is one of several thousand hijra or eunuch sex workers in Mumbai, India.