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October 20, 1998


Eunuchs cry for justice

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Vinod Behl in Delhi

They have had enough of life in the twilight zone, and are now ready to make a bid for a visible image of their own.

Thus, a petition has been filed in a Chandigarh court, demanding that the People's Representation Act be amended to provide them representation in both Parliament and the state assemblies.

The petition goes further, to claim employment reservation in government and semi-government categories, under the sexually handicapped category; and, further, that suo motu criminal cases be registered against those who forcibly convert people into eunuchs.

Simultaneously, the All India Hijra Kalyan Sabha has sent an SOS to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre, demanding that the government move to ameliorate the miserable conditions under which they exist.

As per a survey done by the Sabha, there are only a few hundred genuine eunuchs countrywide -- the rest, numbering around 500,000, are the victims of forcible castration.

The petition thus charges that young children are brought to the cities by agents, from villages and towns all over the country, castrated, and then put in charge of a guru at one of the dhams, or hijra centres.

Startlingly, the petition estimates that 100,000 new eunuchs are created by forcible castration.

The petition is pitilessly detailed while describing the ritual of castration.

The victim is taken to a deserted spot and sequestered in a hut. For two whole days, he is fed on a diet of opium and milk, maintaining him in a permanent state of intoxication.

In the pre-dawn hours of the third day, the boy is held down by five or six eunuchs, while a cord is tied tightly around his testicles to stop the blood flow to the genitals.

Thereafter, his penis and testicles are severed with one slash of a sharp knife, and they are then buried. The wound is allowed to bleed, 'signifying' the draining of manhood and the onset of womanhood.

Some survive. An unestimated number of young boys, however, die during the process, and are consigned to unmarked graves.

The survivor's plight, however, continues. A rounded branch of the pipal tree is inserted into the wound to ensure that the hole is not filled. Heated oil is poured on it, and a lump of kathha is used as antiseptic to hasten the healing process.

For 48 hours, the new-created eunuch is kept awake to the deafening sounds of drums and music, and maintained on a liquid diet. At the end of this period, the festivities begin -- the 'gurus' serving sheera made in pure ghee to all and sundry.

Before a eunuch is fully accepted into the clan, however, he is made to sit, with his rectum spread wide, on top of the rounded handle of a grinding stone. Two eunuchs then push the youngster further down onto the handle, till the first drops of anal blood appear. This is taken to signify the first menstruation, and the eunuch is now a 'made' member of the clan.

At last count, there are an estimated 450 big, 1600 medium and 35,000 smaller dhams, where the young, castrated children are trained to dance and sing -- and clap in that peculiarly recognisable way -- and then put out on the streets to earn money begging at street corners and in marketplaces.

Alleging that this empire is under the control of a few hijra gurus, the petition says that eunuchs who grow old and whose earning ability is thereby lessened are then dumped, left to die on the streets.

The petition reveals details of the auction of eunuchs in various centres. In Bombay, such auctions allegedly take place in Bhindi Bazar, Pila House, Koliwada, Highway Road, and Andheri. In Delhi, the leading centre is Hare Baba Ki Mazar, near Jama Masjid.

At the time of the urs, eunuchs are auctioned at Ajmer Sharif. Auctions also take place regularly at centres such as Agra, Calcutta, Jalandhar, Baroda, Nagpur and Madras.

Pleading for the liberation of millions of unfortunates, the petition demands that eunuchs be given individual identity cards, that their names be registered in employment exchanges and be considered eligible for Class IV jobs in government, semi-government and private offices, the goal being to enable them to live with dignity.

Further, the petition asks the ageing eunuchs be given a state pension of Rs 500 a month.

And, finally, that the hijra gurus be booked, and brought to justice, for their heinous crimes.

It's a comprehensive charter of demands -- the question it will remain yet another of the unheard voices of society's underprivileged...

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