Third Gender and Identity: A Study of Hijras in Jammu Region- Episode 1

//By Hema Gandotra and Usha Sharma //

Human society is a complex organization of human role relationships. The implication of such a structural conception is that the human beings act and interact with each other in accordance with the role they play.

Their role performance in relation to each other is further conditioned by the status they occupy. The most basic criterion of defining status and a corresponding role for any individual in any society has been sex (Sharma 2009).

The term “Sex” refers to the biological difference between males and females. Sex is closely related to reproduction, in which both males and females play a part.

The female ovum and the male sperm, which joins to form a fertilized embryo, each contain twenty-three pairs of chromosomes (biological codes that guide physical development).

One of these chromosome’s pairs determines the child’s sex. The mother always contributes an “X” chromosome; the father contributes either an “X” or a “Y” chromosome.

A second “X” from the father produces a female (XX) embryo and ‘Y’ produces a male (XY) embryo. A child’s sex then, is determined at conception.

Within weeks, the sex of an embryo starts to guide its development. If the embryo is male, testicular tissues begin producing testosterone, a hormone that stimulates the development of the male genitals.

Without testosterone, the embryo develops female genitals (Macionis 1986). But sometimes there is difficulty in assigning sex to an individual from the appearance of external genitalia.

For such kind of individuals, Rekha Ojha (2011) has used the term “Intersex”, for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anomaly that does not seem to fit in the typical definition of female or male.

But sometimes in very rare cases many male children are born with underdeveloped, hidden and deformed genitals. In such cases it is assumed that the child born is a girl.

On the other hand, a girl child may be born with an abnormally developed clitoris and may be assumed that she is a boy. Sometimes, owing to genetic defects, a child may be born with the characteristics of both sexes.

In the science of genetics, persons having characteristics of both the sexes are described as ‘hermaphrodite’, the name derived from a Greek God Hermes, (the messenger of God-a mischievous and essentially a masculine character) and the Goddess Aphrodite (a symbol of love).

The hijras do exhibit the characteristics features of hermaphrodite especially mischievousness (Sharma 2009). For ages it was believed that the different characteristics, roles and statuses accorded to women and men in society, are determined by biology (that is, sex), that they are natural, and therefore not changeable.

Thus, social identity of an individual depends on his or her sex that is, on the biological identity. On the basis of sex, each society slowly transforms a male or female into a man or a woman, into masculine and feminine, with different qualities, behavior patterns, roles, responsibilities, rights and expectations.

Unlike sex, which is biological, the gender identities of the individuals in the society are psychological and socio-culturally determined (Bhasin 2005).

Hence gender identity refers specifically to social differences. In other words, one can say that gender identity is individuals own sense of maleness and femaleness (Giddens 1998).

But in all societies some people do not identify with the gender that is otherwise associated with their biological sex. Thus, some societies have third gender categories which can be used as a basis for a gender identity by persons who are uncomfortable with the gender that is usually associated with their biological sex.

Today, some of them refer to themselves as belonging to the “third” gender. There exist differences amongst them, based on their experience and expression of femininity, their sexual orientation (they could be sexually active or remain chaste), their faith (several amongst them claim an Islamic identity) and their class status (Geetha 2009).

Hema Gandotra Department of Sociology, University of Jammu, Jammu,
Usha Sharma Government College for Women, Udhampur

Photo Credit: Lens Culture /Camillo Pasquarelli


Source: University of Jammu