Nighat Gandhi’s Rakhi Sawant of Sind: An insight into the Tribulations and Social Exclusion of Transgenders.

Ruchi Raj Thakur
Assistant Professor of English
Himachal Pradesh National Law
University, Shimla.
Ruchi Raj Thakur
This paper endeavours to focus on the struggles and adversities experienced by Transgenders. It depicts the voice of a transgender who marks the woes of her community by narrating their experiences of humiliation. This research highlights the pain of this community which goes unheard or unattended. It covers the duality of society and further deliberates upon the outlook of the society towards them. It also underscores the diverse ways they are ridiculed. The dichotomy in their real relations and in the newly found relationships has also been dealt in this work.
Key words: Humiliation, new found relationships, ridiculed, women-like.

“We are God’s creation we didn’t create ourselves so why are we blamed to be like this? “We wish we would have a separate world to live, this world of males and females don’t want to see us and we don’t want to see them either.” -Ume Sughra.
This was the comment, Ume heard while interviewing a transgender community at Bari Imam Islamabad, Pakistan. The deplorable conditions of transgenders are not confined to a particular nation but are universal. Discussion on transgender is not new but has become more popular after the decriminalization of 377 of Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court of India. Of course, this legal gesture has invited diverse responses. The young segment of society welcomes the decision, while the conventional chunk reacts pejoratively. This article aims to delve deep into the duality of society, extreme agonies of transgenders and the challenges met by them.
The transgenders are popularly known as khusras, kinners, hijras. The marks of Hijra community can be traced to more than 4000 years. They are mentioned in Hindi scriptures as well as Holy Quran. In Hindu mythology, transgenderism existed and acknowledged. In Mughal Rule, transgenders played a significant role in the courts. The coming of the British rule questioned the popularity of Transgenders and since then they have been relegated to the position of nothingness. Humaira Jami Coway (2002) tried to trace the prevalence of hijras in India and gave rough estimates around 1,000,000 among over a billion people. While, much is known and written about hijras in India; very little is documented about them in Pakistan” (3)
Transgender communities have seen negligible visibility in our society which has resulted in very little visibility in literature too. Literature recognises all the sections of the society irrespective of caste, class, colour or any other peculiarity which divides the society into various segments. So this community has gained popularity in literary writings. Though socially only the binary of male and female genders have been recognized, yet literature tries to throw light on all gender deviances. “ Anybody who deviates from any of the normative beliefs about sex/ gender is considered to be a deviant (Sharma, 2000; see Winter, 2002).
 It gives voice to the cornered minority which is coping stress due to their sexual orientation, injustice, social and cultural prohibition, etc. Literary writings bring all cornered populace in the center and instill consciousness for the forgotten people by exploring their plights and challenges. Such writings demonstrate that how the already oppressed community is subjected to unending stigmatization. This paper aims to give an insight of the experiences of transgenders through Nighat Gandhi’s depiction of Nisho in ‘Rakhi Sawant of Sind’ in Alternative Realities.
There is very little research on transgenders as most of the studies on such population underscores the medical aspects of gender identity. A little has been done to secure them economically, socially or politically. They are socially and emotionally attacked. Their illiteracy keeps them unaware about their rights. The social construct further suppresses them. Nighat Gandhi narrates the doleful condition of this community by saying, “ People keep talking about rights. But who gives you your right? Nobody. Our small town has many Khawaja Sara and they have small minds. They’re not clever like educated, city people. And they’re afraid of harassment, so they keep to themselves. They‘ll never give an interview or talk to an outsider. They don’t trust people, they don’t like people asking them questions about their lives. They’re always worried about consequences” (220).
The duality of our society is evident from the social demeanour and the conventional perception. The transgenders are considered to be harbingers of festivity and good-omen. Whether a baby takes birth or two different souls tie in the nuptial bond, the presence of transgenders make the surrounding gleeful with their shower of blessings. The mundane ceremony of sons in Indian families remains an insipid affair if the blessings are not conferred on them. Otherwise they are detested by the straight people. Does our society ever try to find that those who make our gatherings joyful are themselves happy or not? Their gloominess remains hidden under the loud clapping. Nisho expresses her anguish against those who make fun of them. She asserts, “ But outside my mohalla, where people don’t know me, they taunt and tease me, they call me names-chakka, hijra, zenna. They make fun of me by trying to imitate the khadra’s clap. But you know, we don’t go clapping all the time. To clap for no reason is completely against the behavior code of our community. But for most people, a khadra’s trade mark is their clap, so whenever they see us, they clap to imitate us. In our community, we clap only to signal disagreements among us, or when we want to end an argument. Or if we go for badhai to a house where there’s been a birth, then we clap” (222).
They are a marginalized and stigmatized community. Besides, their social deprivation and harassments, the development society has not intended to do much for them. Infact, if they tend to live happily then also society does not let them. It is scornful that transgenders are thrown out of their own houses by their parents because having produced transgender babies make them feel embarrassed in the social circles. Most of them look like men, but they prefer to be accepted as female. Their inclination to lead a life of women becomes an issue of humiliation for the parents who fail to appreciate the third gender as only two genders have been accepted in our society. Nisho says, “I don’t know why the world thinks of us as immoral. The world’s full of hardcore criminals, alcoholics, drug addicts, adulters, gamblers, murderers, terrorists. Do we plant bombs? Are we murdering people? Do we take bribes?  What kind of threat do we pose to society? We keep to ourselves. Then why does the world shun us? Treat us like criminals? Some call us dozakhi (destined to go to hell)…” (220).
Nighat Gandhi’s Nisho tells her that, “ We have two names. One that our parents give us and one which we are given when we enter this field. The names our parents give us are boys’ names. But we live like women after leaving home, so we can’t have masculine names. You are given a feminine name by your guru, a name that goes with your personality. So I chose to call myself Nisho…” (214).
By birth, Hijras are physiologically males but in flesh are fascinated by feminine gender identity. So they get into feminine gender roles and wear women's clothing. The social conduct fails to understand their mentality and sexuality. Nisho narrates her experience, “…I always liked being a girl. I dressed like a girl. I never played cricket or football or gulli danda- all those are boys’ games. I played with dolls and kho-kho. I used to watch my sisters and from them I learned to cook. My brothers used to love me until my father passed away….”(224).
Kessler and McKenaa remarks, “Gender is an anchor and once people decide what you are they interpret everything you do in light of that” (6). While, sex is the biological component, gender is the psychological and social component. However, there are certain conditions in which the biological aspects are in contradiction with the social and psychological aspects of gender. These conditions override the biology in determining gender identity and influencing gender role (6).
Transgenders choose their own relation after parting their ways from their families, forcefully or preferably. When families do not come to support them, they are supported by the new found relations. They find mother, sister, dadi, etc. whom they consider their own. They are different because they do not wish to lament over their dead relations. Even though the worldly affairs make their living miserable, yet they try their best to meander their way through difficulties.  Nisho says, “We are like faqirs-we are happy within ourselves. We don’t involve ourselves in the affairs of the world. We just live, accepting the way Allah has made us. Probably Allah didn’t want us to get embroiled in the intrigues and corruption of the world so He spared us all that by making us different” (225).
Transgenders can develop their families within their communities but if they drift towards the straight world then it plays havoc in the social construction.
Society does not accept such unison which is not productive. For them man loving a man and woman loving the same sex are unappreciable. Similarly, a transgender loving a man is repugnant. Nisho loves a man but knows that her love is not so strong to break the social norms. She even knows if she dares to smash them then also her love will remain unfulfilled. One has to muster courage to swim across the tide and pose a threat to the social perception.
Nisho’s boyfriend fails to break the social bindings and marry her. Nisho’s love will never be understood by the people around her. Her emotions will be viewed as dissolute and anti-social. Nisho says, “ Who hasn’t been in love? At least once in their lifetime? I mean, if you haven’t loved, life is absolutely worthless. There’s no point in living without love. We’d just come to life, live like animals and die. People think only a man and a woman can make a couple. They say that is how nature intended it. But, the truth is, anybody can fall in love with anybody. A man can fall in love with a man, a woman can fall in love with a woman. But society doesn’t accept such love” (215).
Nisho meets her boyfriend seven or eight years ago in a dance performance. His macho look attracts her and she falls in love with him. She even narrates her embarrassment for being what God made her because she knew this relationship will be received by others contemptuously. She even narrates that till that time she had never considered her existence a curse because he made her feel like a complete woman. She says, “ Is there any difference between us and real women? No, it’s just that we aren’t accepted as women by society. If I were a real woman, I could’ve gotten married, had kids, made some man happy. But this way, the way I am, I can’t. I don’t fit into any role”. (215)
In the social context, a man and a woman complete the photo frame. If man and man, who dress up like woman, are captured together in the frame of husband and wife, the society spews poison in retaliation. Usually such relationships end because to flout social norms one should have the nerve to invite and combat social acrimony.
Nisho is completely committed to her boyfriend even though he marries off another woman while being involved with her. For Nisho having affair with some other man will be the biggest sin. She does not care whether her lover is married because all that matters to her is the quality time she spends with him. She says, “It would be sinful if I were to cheat on my lover, if I got into another relationship behind his back. But I follow my heart’s bidding, and love him, where’s the sin in that? I’ve always listened to my heart” (216).
Society makes fun of hijras for what they are. They are laughed at for their peculiar style of dressing up. The way they drape their sarees on their masculine bodies is made fun of. Their style of speaking and clapping followed by words are enough to ridicule them. Nobody wishes to travel with them in public conveyance nor do they feel comfortable in conversing or associating with them. In such apathetic world it also seems astounding that they can ever be loved by normal men. It is difficult to even accept the relationship of Nisho and her lover, not simply because they should not share any relationship but because of the dilemma that whether it is love or lust which compels a normal married man to continue his relationship with a transgender. Nisho could foresee her future, yet she loves him. She says, “ I know this love isn’t going to last. He’ll grow tired of me. He’ll become preoccupied with his family responsibilities. In a few years he’ll have two or three kids, and when they grow up, he’ll be even more tied down, worrying about their education, their marriage. He’ll forget me by and by” (218).
Nisho respects her lover’s limitation by allowing him to come to her according his convenience. She would fight with him and would accuse him of being a henpecked husband because of coming late to her. Her mild teasing would be dealt by him either with a slap or abuses. Nisho surrenders herself completely to her lover without demanding for reciprocation. She remarks, “Sometimes he also gets mad at me and sometimes he even slaps me when I talk back to him. He hits me to bring me back to my senses. If somebody else uses abusive language, or gives me a gaali, I can’t take it. But my lover can curse me hundreds of times, and I can say a hundred mean things to him, but afterwards, when we make up, I forget all that”(216).
The social exclusion and degradation make the transgenders vulnerable. They too accept their fate and accept marginality in all spheres of life. Gandhi’s Nisho does not look for commitment from her lover because she understands that she will not be welcomed in her lover’s family. She says, “ But his family used insulting words like hijra for me. He belongs to a very prominent, respectful family so our relationship was kept all hushed up by his family. And now he has a wife and a five-month-old son” (217).
Had it been love, then Nisho’s lover would have certainly reacted against his family’s decision but he does not do so. He continues to have a secret association with Nisho. How can one so easily overcome the grief of not getting married to his love and get sexually involved with his new wife. Sadly, Nisho withdraws herself from this relationship by saying, “I can’t marry him. I can’t marry a man and give him children….I knew he wouldn’t marry me. And yet it was so painful for me…”(217).
 Once transgenders are forced to part their ways from their families, they are forced to fend for themselves. Under the training of Gurus they learn dancing, singing and all other skills which enable them to earn. Sustenance becomes the principle of their life. Nisho too manages her living by dancing and singing. With increasing modernity, the practice of dancing and singing on the such occasions like birth or wedding is declining and so to earn more money transgenders are getting into sex trade. In the story, it is not mentioned whether Nisho earned her living only by dancing or singing or by serving men sexually but her loyalty to her lover has been discussed with utmost certainty. Nisho also shares her insecuries and anxieties with Nighat Gandhi. She says, “ But in the end, our lives end badly. There’s nobody for us once those who have put aside savings, can hope to have a somewhat comfortable old age. But those who don’t have any savings, they get kicked about in old age” (218).
A true love is unconditional. One accepts the other partner without a change in his or her physical appearance. If someone is embarrassed of the looks of his partner then undeniably it is not love.  To get love, Nisho even gets ready for experimenting with her looks. Nisho could do anything for her love. She knows that his love for her will not last long, yet she keeps a good care of her. She believes that by keeping herself in shape she will have his love for a little more time and her market value will also not go down. She says, “For him I need to keep myself in shape. I went on a diet and lost four kilos in one month. I had to. I was getting heavy. In our profession, you need to maintain your figure. My paunch was beginning to show. People don’t like it if a dancer is flabby. I started taking this powder with green tea to kill my hunger. I’m a big chatori, a glutton.  I like to eat whatever takes my fancy. If the dahibada wala goes calling, I send some children with money and ask him to bring me dahibada. Now I’ve stopped eating like that. You can’t dance well if you put on too much weight” (218).
Hijras have similar feelings like any other human beings. They wish to be loved and cared. They feel jealous too. Nisho knows that she cannot get herself in the life of her lover, but she knew that feeling jealous of his wife was within her capacity. A society does not object to one’s yearning. Nighat Gandhi brings to fore a very serious issue that not only transgenders are exploited but women live the same humiliation. Nisho’s boyfriend was exploiting both of them. His wife was somehow tolerating Nisho in her husband’s life as she had discovered her husband’s hidden association with a transgender. But what other choice a woman has? Can she object to anything? The patriarchal society does not allow women to defy the social norms. Nisho asserts, “ I hate her most of the time. But I also feel sorry for her because she puts up with my presence in his life. I wouldn’t have been as generous if I’d been his wife. I wouldn’t let him go to another woman…” (219).
It is not wide off the mark to say that had Nisho been born as a woman, her condition would have been no different. As a transgender she is suffering and as a woman too she would have suffered. She herself narrates the miseries of married women of her mohalla and expresses her surprise for their doleful situation even after having the power of productiveness.  She even expresses happiness for being free from the marital bindings. She says, “…Then I thank God that there’s no husband or mother-in-law shouting orders at me like a blood-sucking vampire or the angel of death threatening to strangulate me. Those married women can’t do much of what they wish to, they can’t follow the desires of their hearts. I suppose our life isn’t much better than theirs…” (219).
This community is gaining recognition with time but that is a gradual process. National Identity Cards have been issued to them, but of very little help to them.  They are often confused while filling forms because there are only two options on the form for male and female. The third category is not mentioned in application forms. So the help is partial because it leaves this community in being the victim of social duality. When left with no option, then they lament their creation by the God when they feel helpless. Nisho remarks, “Some of us would say we’re women, some would say we’re men. But if we want to say we’re women, shouldn’t we have the rights that belong to women? Like the right to marry? And if we say we’re male, shouldn’t we get the rights that belong to men? But we’ll get neither the rights of men or women. They‘ll just create a Khwaja Sara category for us but give us no respect or rights” (221).
Through this writing, Nighat Gandhi brings to surface the subjugation of Hijras, with a mild intention to speak about the predicaments of women in general too. After a conversation with Nisho, the dark reality comes to fore front that like other human beings, transgenders too long for respect and self-esteem. The writer voices the pain of this cornered community through the heart-rending narrative of Nisho. Nisho represents the travails of her community as a whole. The narrative will certainly leave the readers to delve deep into the dark world of transgenderism. She states, “More than anything else, I want respect.  I want the world to accept me, and respect me for who I am. That’s all. Other than that life is fine. God provides for all his beings, even a worm living under rocks finds food and shelter, and I’m a human being…Sensitive people  treat us well but the insensitive ones, they don’t realize how their taunts hurts us and how we go home and sob, remembering their insensitivity. Sometimes, I ask Allah, why have you given us this kind of life? Why is it that we aren’t valued like other people in this world? Even if I work hard all my life to build a respectable image of myself, I don’t  think I can succeed” (222).   
This paper depicts the multiple forms of subjugation encountered by Hijras. They recurrently experience sexual, emotional hostility from society. The paper speaks about the absence of a supportive and congenial environment for Hijras. Hijras fail to understand that why their community could never win love, respect and appreciation of the society, though they have God’s approval. Our attitude towards hijras is certainly driven by conventional perceptions and myths. If we question such myths, our outlook on such cornered community will change. If we try to read their lives minutely we would not only know their situations and challenges but also understand their psychological sufferings. The poignancy of transgenders reveals through Nisho’s dialogue, “You can offer any man on the street for twenty or even thirty thousand rupees, and ask him if he’ll agree to wearing sandals like these and a flowery shalwar-kameez, and put on lipstrick, and go on dancing thumak-thumak  in a bazaar. Do you think he’d agree to do it? Why is it that people don’t understand why we live the way we do? Do they think we adopt this lifestyle for fun, or because it makes us rich?” (222)

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