“Woman Like a Man”

posted by on 2007.11.07, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

I met some of the worst Indian gangsters, street thugs, and criminals the other day. It was a really awkward encounter, as it happened at 8am outside the Imax theatre. I had met some friends for a treasure hunt, which is actually a race around Hyderabad that an automobile company organized, where 100’s of cars drove around finding clues, solving them, and racing to a final destination where they would be awarded something close to $5,000. My friend, a real estate agent invited me, and I thought that with my wit and his knowledge of the city, we might stand a chance. Needless to say, we only made it 8 out of the 10 stops before giving up and spending the afternoon at the water park resort.

The morning started on a very bad note, which I blame for our lack of concentration and stamina throughout the contest. Standing outside the theatre, a sudden commotion presented itself on our group. I only knew the fellow that invited me, but we were joined by a crew of 3 other guys, which under any other circumstance I would have felt comfortable to defend me in a fight. You learn a lot about people after just meeting them, and sharing such a confrontational experience with them, and watching them react. That is one thing I have learned in my travels…

This particular morning, the confrontation that took place was initiated by what the locals call “Hijaras,” or Eunuchs. To make a long story short, the belief is that these castrated men wearing saris have special powers which when used to curse someone who does not pay them money upon request, giving bad fortune to the cursed recipient. Most of these Eunuchs were born as men, but it is believed that some were actually born without male of female genitalia . The process of castration is something I would rather not discuss here, but if you would like to read about the origins of this community, please feel free at your leisure.

These people roll around town in groups, like gangs and harass the people that are frightened of them. They are some of the wealthiest people in town, earning something close to $100k per year supposedly. They have such a strong network, that they know about every wedding and child birth in town, and show up on the day of the family celebration and cause a ruckus, singing and dancing and disturbing the event until they are payed to leave. When this source of revenue is not enough, they just stroll around town, stopping cars, or approaching random folks, like the group I was with, and demand payment. When they are unsatisfied with the payment, or the response in general, they rudely flash their missing genitals, curse and touch the person in the most uncomfortable ways you can think of.

I have heard and seen these people before. They are rumored to have the strength or 3 men, being build like bulls, but as feminine as Martha Stewert. When the group of 5 of them approached us, I considered several ways I could react. I thought about my uncle in Canada, who told me he once got so irritated that he hit one in the face, and ran away. I thought about my friend, Ian, who usually handles situations like this in an effective manner, and decided he would probably do the same. We were being watched by a group of 50 or 60 people outside the park, who were mostly amused my my facial expressions at the time. As I prepared to go Oscar Del-D’Mello on a particular enu-thug, I looked at the guys faces around me, as they helplessly gave up the money being asked. I was shocked to see one of these Hijaras‘ grab a $20 bills from my friends wallet, and him just stand still. Fear is something the face never hides.

I gave these people 20 rupees, hoping that it would suffice. It just got them to bother me more. I decided that there was probably a good explanation why the men around me were so frightened, however I refused to pay out anymore, and ignored them until they finally left. Luckily one of the other guys gave them 700 rupees so they left. Their 10 minutes of harassment earned them the equivalent of $40. That is $240 per hour….the rate of a decent lawyer. (I know a few lawyers who might get along with these people)

I held back a lot of insults to the guys around me for their reaction to the situation, as they explained to me that they genuinely fear the curses that the Hijaras‘ put on them. Furthermore, they explained that if we were to put up a fight, the 50 – 60 people around us would have sided with the Hijaras and it would have been, as my friend Ian likes to say, “A really bad scene.” They were upset they lost so much money, but glad the the 3000 rupees in my wallet was safe. That is the part of the Indian mentality that has really touched me, the people who care more for their guests welfare than their own, even when money is involved.

A part of me wants to make a documentary on this community….It is really fascinating how they exist, and profit from human fear. The sad thing is that since they can’t reproduce, in many cases little boys are kidnapped and forced into this lifestyle. Some people also believe that since a homosexual lifestyle in India is prohibited, this is the alternative many young confused men seek. Young men are said to save up for months for the operation to join the community in some places, and it is estimated that the total population of these “girly men” is over one million people. They are arguably India’s “Third Gender.”

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