Mumbai to Bangalore 1999
I first photographed a member of India’s transgender ‘Hijra’ community in November 1999 when the train I was travelling on with my 85 year old Anglo Indian Grandpa, briefly stopped at a platform. This scheduled stop, somewhere between Mumbai and Bangalore allowed me the time to make just one portrait.
Traditionally India’s ‘Hijra’ earn their living by turning up unannounced at weddings where they then dance and sing but many Hijra also work in prostitution and from 1980’s they have been at grave risk from the HIV virus. Male Prostitution is also illegal under section 377 of the Indian penal code, which outlaws ‘intercourse against the order of nature.’ This law was introduced under British rule in 1860 to curb the ‘heathen customs of the local population’. There plight has not been a happy one in recent Indian history.
Thankfully things are changing; slowly and reluctantly the human rights of the Hijra are finally being recognised by Indian law. After decades of oppression and ridicule, brought about during British times, there appears to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
My Grandpa informed me that as he grew up in the city of Bangalore it was common place for him and his childhood friends to tease Hijra, often offering them money encouraging them to lift up their saris in an attempt to establish if in fact they were either male or female. He was giggling to me on the train, as he recalled and recounted his rather mischievous and cruel childhood memory.
Jason Scott Tilley