God did not create them; he created only Adam and Eve.
The are neither. They are derelicts, social outcasts, feared, despised and ridiculed by men and women alike. Their coarse voices, their filthy language and obscene gestures embarrass the ‘normal’ and the ‘civilized’, who will never know what is it to be neither… or both.
The pain in written in their lewd hostility. If nothing else, their unabashed strip-tease is sure to make people shrink away. Yet, at the core of that body, which is neither male nor female but an ungainly mix of both, lies a soft human heart. Eunuchs (or transgenders) eat, sleep, drink, pray, bleed and shed tears just as anyone else. And they are not considered humans among humans.
Harun Masi (We shall refer to her as ‘she’. She prefers it this way) is the leader of more than 500 eunuchs dwelling in slums scattered all around Chetla in South Kolkata — a place notoriously demarcated as Hijra More. She is over 70 years, nearly six-feet tall, fair, and has a face which is nearly devoid of any wrinkles. Her voice is expectedly male and her long hair, jet black. “I won’t lie, Ma (calling me affectionately), I dye my hair.”
But that was long after the battle was won; long after the stony resistance to talking had melted and she had agreed to talk. At first she wouldn’t yield.
She sent out a messenger saying she wans’t at home; then she had the messenger unleash a volley of obscenities to repulse us. “Can you give us back our vagina?” the messenger challenged, clapping her hands in that manner typical of eunuchs. “Can you? If you can’t, go away!”
But, on seeing our insistence, Harun Masi, first knit her brows and listened to the messenger’s ineffective story. (I had by then managed to sneak inside the lioness’s den.) She then pushed off the only cover on her bare breasts and ignoring me completely, marched towards the road, where photographer, renowned Aloke Mitra (http://www.alokemitra.com/), had come on my insistence. Once she emerged through the flimsy curtains, thankfully, she discreetly pulled the covers back.
“What do you want, babus?”
“We want to talk to you,” I rushed out to save an aged Mr Mitra.
“There’s nothing to talk about. Please go away.”
“About the government recently granting you voting rights…”
“We already have voting rights. Yes, we vote. We even get voting papers. Ask anybody. There’s nothing to say.”
“Please, can’t we sit inside?”
“No. You can say whatever you want in front of everyone. They are all my sons,” she said, pointing to a thick crowd of people who had, needless to say, had dropped all work and rushed in to watch this live entertainment or reality show.
Harun Masi is a Hindu by religion. She was brought over to Calcutta from Assam by her Guruma when she was an infant. ” I do not remember anything about my parents,” she recollected, crouched on her doorstep, after she finally relented to our pleadings.
“My parents have died and I have a sister who lives in Assam.” None of them, expectantly, has ever tried to contact her after she was taken away. “Guruma was my mother and my father,” she says pensively. And now that her Guruma was dead, she rules over her kingdom of over 500 eunuchs.
Earlier, it was the dai-s and dasi-s who used to inform them about the birth of a baby in the neighborhood. Today matters are more organised. “The corporation and hospital staff themselves come over to inform us,” says Harun.
Their approach to each family is warm — with the team singing and dancing and blessing the newborn. Matters take a turn once the household refuses to pay or negotiate with them. The demands are often very high. Few want to spend that kind of money and the eunuchs often turn violent and gather around the house to treat the locality to an ugly striptease.
“What may be petty to them, is our bread,” Harun explains. “We need to survive till we die. And this manner of granting blessings to a baby and receiving bakshish is the only way we can earn money.” It is noteworthy to say that even today eunuchs are often not included into the actual society and not given jobs or education.
Not one baby can be born born a eunuch without being taken away by elder eunuchs. “It is our right to take away the eunuch babies. We need to increase our clan,” says Harun.
Of the 5.5 lakh eunuchs in India today (1994), two-thirds have been claimed to be castrated males. In various reports it has been claimed that to increase their clan they kidnap young good-looking male babies and castrate them in a rather crude manner. Many die in the process. A study revealed that in India during the years 1990 to 1992 only 213 infants were naturally born eunuchs.
“Very few are born eunuchs,” confirms gynecologist Dr J.K. Basu. “In some cases infants develop ambiguous sex at birth. A girl, for example, may have male organs. But such cases are rare.”
Harun Masi, predictably, denies castrating males. “How can a baby survive after being castrated like that? And even if he does, how can she develop female hormones?”
To make this a noteworthy point, I must admit that when Harun Masi had taken off the only cover on her bare body earlier, I did get a glimpse of her not-so-well formed breasts.
Says Dr Basu,” It is possible for a male to develop feminine ‘characteristics’ if castrated at an age before puberty, since he develops no male secondary organs. However, there is no possibility of a male growing female organs.”
The death of an eunuch too has several stories attached to it. One says that they are buried deep in a ditch in standing position with lots of salt on their heads. Another story says the eunuchs are buried at the dead of night under the same bed they died in the same position with lots of salt around them. This is in hope for a normal life in next birth.
Harun Masi, however, refutes all such stories. “God!” she exclaims! “After suffering through the entire life, the least a eunuch deserves is not to be buried in such a crude manner. No, Ma, we bury the Muslims and Christians and cremate the Hindus, just like anybody else.”
When I asked Harun Masi what is her aspiration and what’s her opinion about the government granting them voting rights finally, she said briefly,”I want to be a mother.”
Kaberi Dutta Chatterjee
(This story appeared in The Telegraph as a full page ‘LOOK’ story, dated July 31, 1994, right after the government of India stated that Eunuchs are humans enough to be able to vote and formally granted them voting rights. Not much has changed over the past 16 years. They still hoard in Chetla and other places and still barge onto people’s premises to demand money by obscene language and vulgar dances. I don’t think much will change over the next 200 years. I had to edit this 1200 word story to fit the blog.)
PS: Things changed after 20 years of this write-up appearing in The Telegraph. Supreme Court in India just granted transgenders the right as a third gender on April 15, 2014, issuing the landmark verdict recognizing transgender rights as human rights, saying people can identify themselves as a third gender on official documents.