Unlike in rest of India Hijras in Kashmir are a stigmatized, socially marginalized, and economically impoverished people

  • Irfan Mehraj
  • Publish Date: Dec 23 2017 8:33PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Dec 23 2017 8:33PM
Unlike in rest of India Hijras in Kashmir are a stigmatized, socially marginalized, and economically impoverished people

Aijaz Ahmad Bund, a scholar at Kashmir University’s Department of Social Work has worked extensively on rights of the transgender community of Kashmir. Aijaz’s first book The Hijras of Kashmir: A Marginalized form of Personhood is just out. It documents the trials and tribulations of the transgender community in Kashmir. In this interview with Kashmir INK, Aijaz Bund talks about his journey, the petition he filed in J&K High Court and the challenges he faced while pursuing his research on the transgender community


What motivated you to document and campaign for the rights of transgender community?


Being a student of social work the issues and vulnerabilities of gender and sexual minorities were not at all unfamiliar to me. I had read about them in books, heard about them, seen them but never talked to them or never visited them. Some eight or nine years down the line, a Hijra meanzimyoar [matchmaker] visited our home to fix the marriage of my elder sister. The attitude of my family was very terrible. They were reluctant to  receive the guest.

With the demeanour of my family members, I got an idea how people view them and where they are positioned in the society. That was the turning point in my life when I pledged to be the voice of this voiceless community. I initiated a conversation with the meanzimyoar guest and got to know about the problems of this community. When I started visiting them and befriending them, I was moved by their plight. They were living a subhuman life full of abuse, discrimination, violence, and harassment. I began with sensitizing my family, my friends, and the people around me and eventually started working at grassroots level and advocating for their rights.


What prompted you to write the book?


It was in 2011 when I got associated with the Hijra community, I along with some community members approached social welfare department, we convinced them to formulate an intervention plan to address the problems of this community. They formulated the plan but never implemented citing the reason that it is a policy matter and requires an approval from the cabinet. After two years of moving from pillar to post in 2013 I approached SHRC with some demands pertaining to the rights of this marginalized community. The case in SHRC remained lingering for almost 4 years and as nothing productive was happening  I had to withdraw the case.

We moved the PIL in High Court in June 2017 and the struggle continues. It was during this period of struggle I felt that there is an immense need of conducting a scientific study about this community to highlight their sufferings and to work at grassroots level. There is no trace of Hijra community in the history of Jammu and Kashmir and academicians have completely neglected them. This book is a first study of its kind in the Kashmir valley. The prime motive of writing this book is that people need to know about Hijra Community, their sufferings and their struggles as well as their strengths.


What was the petition all about and what was the response of the court?


After withdrawing the case from SHRC, I was joined by two like-minded people Enus Shafi Khan and Farah Ashraf, who are the part of this movement and the co-litigants in the PIL. We approached many senior as well as junior lawyers but no one was ready to plead on our behalf. The ones who were ready were charging hefty amount and we didn’t have the resources. Then with a help of a friend we drafted the petition and decided to fight on our own. The plea was accepted by the court and we had four hearings hitherto.

The PIL seeks making up of programmes ensuring the social, economic, and political inclusion and rehabilitation of this community. It also seeks a provision of social security including a monthly welfare fund for transgender people. The PIL demands that Government should acknowledge the transgender community as a marginalized and vulnerable section of society and therefore introduce reservations in educational institutions and government jobs.

It also demands housing facility, formal and non-formal educational programs, transgender friendly policy of schools, setting up of counseling centers, a transgender welfare board, equal applicability of all laws, livelihood opportunities, capacity building, and skill development and building civil society support to curb harassment faced by transgender people. The PIL intends to have provisions so that the basic human rights of this community are recognized and safeguarded.


Working with a marginalized community comes with challenges. Please  tell us about your experience of working with them.


When I first approached them, I had some of the preconceived notions about the community and they were also very skeptical about me. Thanks Almighty with time every complexity untangled automatically. When I started working with them, I faced a lot of ridicule from friends, family, and relatives. Initially, I was very much horrified of people classifying me with a wrong category, questioning my ‘masculinity’ and challenging my religious identity.

Eventually, I realized that it hardly matters and in any case, I have to continue with my work. I am continuously learning to face the ‘ridicule’.  I place myself in an unacquainted environment and as a result, I am learning some of my most important lessons of life. I have become more confident about myself while advocating  the rights of this community. While working with this community I started identifying, respecting and taming my anima, my feminine side. Every man inherits half his mother and everyman is half a woman, I wonder why men are scared of femininity.


What are the major findings of your book and how you want society and state to address them?


The unique lifestyle and mannerism of the Hijras, which is not fitting in the prescribed and perceived gender norms becomes the source of discrimination, harassment and violence. Hence they are socially ostracized and become the ‘other’. Transgender community in Kashmir is physically, verbally, and sexually abused. Extreme social segregation tells upon their self-worth and sense of social responsibility. Accessibility to various social, cultural, educational, and legal services is extremely classified for anyone with this identity in Kashmir. They are considered ‘abnormal’ and eventually become ‘outsiders’ in the mainstream.  Deprivations, alienations, and hostilities encountered by transgender of Kashmir, since early childhood is so intense and extreme that, at some point, finding no other social space, they exclude themselves.

Unlike in rest of India where Hijras have a bit of social acceptance, in Kashmir they are a stigmatized, socially marginalized, and economically impoverished people. Hijra of Kashmir defines themselves as people who are neither male nor female but an idiosyncratic third gender. However, they align themselves with the feminine identities. Hijra subculture is diverse and has different rituals, customs and traditions. Hijra’s traditional occupation revolves around maenzimyaras (match making) and natchun ‘te’gaewun (singing and dancing in marriages). Most of them are seen doing petty  jobs. Remarkably, unlike many other socially disadvantaged groups Hijras are not found to have expanded their livelihood securing approaches or strategies.  Lack of support from family and bullying in school has minimized the chances of receiving the formal education.

They are living dual life hence the identity crisis becomes inevitable. The mental health issues include depression, anxiety, stress, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, somatization, PTSD, suicidal ideation, OCD etc.


Multiple issues are faced by the transgender community of Kashmir, which makes it very important to address these problems. Some problems require immediate solutions such as introducing transgender specific social welfare schemes. Some problems need to be addressed on the long-term basis like changing the hostile attitude of the general public and increasing proper knowledge about this community. There is an immense need to ensure protection of human rights reflected in policies and laws, change in attitude of the Government and Non-Government actors, general public and health practitioners.