Hijras, the third sex | Photographer: Isabell Zipfel | BLACK AND WHITE | Scoop.it

Noisy and garish, an air of the notorious surrounds them as they walk through the streets. People shrink back when they pass. They are ridiculed and scorned, yet people are wary of incurring their wrath. They are stigmatized as social outcasts, yet fear of their curse inspires caution. For despite their humble status on the lowest rung of the Indian caste system, they wield a mighty cultic power- and in this they are worldwide unique.


They are creatures of the twilight, womanly souls in men's bodies, neither male nor female. According to Hindu mythology, they have the power to bless and to curse, to bestow fertility or deny it. They challenge the traditional dichotomy of gender - for they are the third sex. Their lives are full of contradictions, to which their demeanor testifies. Failing to conform to traditional gender roles, they are consigned to the difficult life of social outcasts. They are frequently the victims of discrimination, abuse and intimidation. Indian civil law recognizes only two sexes, and section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes all sexual acts that do not serve the purpose of procreation.


As members of a sexual minority, hijras - as they are commonly known in India - are denied the right to lead 'normal', independent lives. They are frequently subjected to raids, arrests and even rape by the police. Often rejected in childhood by families who feared losing their social standing, most hijras have not completed any formal education or training. They are largely denied 'normal' jobs. Hijras are not allowed to vote, to marry or to obtain a passport. They survive by soliciting 'donations' from business owners during Holi and Diwali - India's two most important religious festivals - or by blessing newlyweds and newborns with their dancing and singing for a fee. The alternative is prostitution.- Isabell Zipfel