Growing up as a young boy, Shammi was different. Unlike other boys, he was more interested in dolling up which put him in a position of constant abuse and mockery both from his closed ones and surroundings. Living with relentless torments and trapped in a gender identity crisis, he left everything behind at the age of 14 and found refuge with a group of Hijras, where he finally discovered himself as a ‘She’. Yet, things did not change, rather her status as human seemed to degrade more in society. To some she turned into a terror, for some she became a person to be ridiculed at. With no opportunities to work, she started begging. Misery lingered until a benign police officer assisted her to set up a beauty salon of her own. Even though the beginning was rough, with hard work and perseverance she now established herself as a proud owner of multiple salons in her locality. Today, her business is not only blooming but she herself is extremely pleased to see the change of behavior and attitude of locals towards her. This is one of the success stories of a transgender person living in Bangladesh, who despite the numerous hurdles has owned a position in the realm of the society. Labonnya hijra and Nodi hijra also from Bangladesh similarly achieved their respects for their outstanding and courageous attempt against the murderers of blogger Oyasiqur Rahman.
Now, we may wonder why a transgender person in Bangladesh has to earn her rights and position in society with such struggles in spite of being a human already? And, why the word ‘Hijra’ creates a sense of disgust and fear in us? Well, the answers lie in the attitude and perception of people towards the transgender population. Sadly, mainstream societies of this region are reluctant to recognize gender diversity and accept things that are a little out of the norm. As a result, we categorize transgender or Hijras as outliers and compel them to live in an excluded environment in the fringe of society.
Surprisingly, this stigma towards transgender in our country starts within the family constellation. From the very early age, a transgender person is forced to perceive herself as an odd entity. They encounter refusal not only from society but also from their very own family. Parents, siblings and other relatives are ashamed of their presence and most of the times demand them to either conceal their gender identity or to leave the family for good. Getting education also becomes tough for them since the fellow mates and even the teachers often ill-treat them at school and other institutions. It is hard to imagine the level of distress a transgender person in our country may go through as a child. Again, as a grownup, they may face much hardship to earn and live because of the lack of education and the complete detachment from their family. It is even difficult for them to find menial jobs as they are deemed inappropriate and their presence is unwelcomed by others. As a result, they get involved in pitiable professions such as begging, prostitution, dancing at weddings, and are often encouraged to scare people for money. Hijras in Bangladesh even do not know whom to approach when they fall into illness as the doctors and other staff possesses a negative stance and are hesitant to offer medical care to them. Hence, Hijras in our country are not only deprived of all the necessary human rights but are neglected from all the sectors that constitute a society.
Throughout all these years, transgender people in our country are facing exclusion from society, economic challenges, harassment, discrimination, classism, and obstacles in every single step. Nonetheless, like humans, they have the absolute right to claim their rightful position. They also seek a platform or an opportunity to shape their lives beautifully, just like Shammi hijra. To establish and protect their rights, the government of Bangladesh announced the recognition of a ‘third gender’ category in the year 2013. This acknowledgment allowed them to secure their rights and identify their gender as ‘Hijra’ in all government documents of Bangladesh. In addition, organizations such as ‘Bandhu Social Welfare Society’ and ‘Badhan Hijra Sangha’ are working relentlessly to protect the rights and improve the living conditions of Hijras.
The recognition, however still could not guarantee the social acceptance of Hijras. Comparisons between the present and past life scenarios of the transgender population in Bangladesh show only a few positive changes. Still, myriads of people are unwilling to recognize their presence in society. In order to protect the rights of the transgender community, firstly we have to change our perception. People need to understand that Hijras are also human and similar to others they also wish to live in a society with equal rights and opportunities. It is our duty to value them as humans and make them feel appropriate.
Once we successfully develop the right attitude and eliminate all the prejudices against Hijras, they will soon learn to believe in themselves and would shine and thrive just like others in society.