Earth & Conservation

 Inequality Within India's Third Gender Community

People who identify as "third gender" in India have achieved legal recognition, but many face inequality within their own hijra communities.

Anka Maria lives on the outskirts of Delhi in a small, crowded apartment that becomes sweltering in the Indian heat. She left home at a young age and now lives on the fringes of society because she is transgender. India's third gender, known as hijra, although legally recognized by the government, are seen as outcasts. Anka always felt she was meant to be female, but her family did not approve of her transition. She chose to leave home so she could dance, sing, and dress as a woman. So she could be herself.

As you might imagine, one of the most difficult parts about being rejected by most of society is that finding employment is nearly impossible. Most hijras in Delhi and Mumbai resort to prostitution to make ends meet. Anka says all she wants is to find a good job that pays enough, but when being laughed at by strangers is an everyday occurrence, finding employment seems like a distant dream. For now she is a sex worker.

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Ironically, many hijras are seen as gurus in Hindu culture. Hijras are associated with Shiva, a god represented as both male and female, which symbolizes an inseparable unity of the cosmos. Older hijras can make a living as a guru by offering sacred blessings for weddings and new babies in exchange for money. The most established and well-known gurus can charge hundreds of dollars for their services.

Anka hopes that one day she will be able to join the ranks of the highly respected hijra gurus, making a living by offering blessings at weddings and birth ceremonies. But that won't happen until she's at least fifty years old. Until then she must make her living anyway she can, which ultimately means that prostitution is her only option.

In 2014 the Indian government legally recognized hijras as a third gender and said they plan to offer more employment opportunities to this often abused subculture. Anka has not seen any of these claims come to fruition and is pretty skeptical about them becoming a reality. "I don't know what will happen in the future, I can't even think about it," she says. "What I want is to get a good job and move forward in life. This is what I want."

Read more about hijras in India:

VICE: India's Third Gender is Marginalized and Sanctified

NBCNews: India's Third Gender