Bangladesh looks set to get its first TV reality show for transgender people, which programme makers hope will end taboos associated with gender and sexual issues.
The show will go out on ATN Bangla, a Bengali-language digital cable channel, which transmits from Dhaka.
According to the news agency AFP, “Across South Asia, hijra communities of transvestites, eunuchs and asexual people are among the most marginalised groups in traditionally conservative societies.”
The show, called Amra Tomadery (“We Are for You”), “is now accepting applications to be one of around 40 contestants who will showcase their dancing and acting skills to win audience votes,” says AFP.
The show’s producer Mokaddem Babu is quoted as saying: “The aim is to end the taboos that are associated with hijras. Hijras are our sons or our daughters, yet we treat them as if they are not part of us. The show wants to break down these barriers.”
Hijras in South Asian culture are traditionally physiological males with female gender identity. Many live in their own defined communities.
The glbtq.com website says of hijras that they are “men who dress and act like women” and who “have been a presence in India for generations. Within South Asian society they maintain a third-gender role that has become institutionalized through tradition.”
The website continues:
Hijras are often defined as eunuchs (castrated males) and acknowledged both in Hindu and Muslim cultures. Numerous references to eunuchs in the royal courts of India’s Muslim rulers are cited as the Hijras’ legacy. The fact that many don’t consider themselves true Hijras until they have undergone the “emasculation operation” links them to this tradition, as do elements of Islamic practice that they observe, such as burying rather than cremating their dead.
American college librarian Sara Marks wrote an undergraduate honours thesis on hijras, and says on her website that she “realized the wealth of information about them was hard to find. I spent a lot of time and effort just gathering my research together.”
Singing, drumming, and dancing
But, according to the glbtq.com website, South Asian hijras’ conduct at wedding and birth celebrations “has won them a colorful (and licentious) reputation.”
At the news of a wedding or birth of a male child in the neighborhood, a troupe of Hijras will show up unannounced – and uninvited – to bless the event by singing, drumming, and dancing. The ostensible purpose of the performance is a ritual entreaty for fertility on behalf of the bridegroom or newborn son. Their dancing and behavior are sexually suggestive, a deliberate attempt to perturb the party’s decorum, with the implication that if appropriate recompense is not forthcoming they will escalate their outrageousness to more shocking extremes.
The site says census data on hijras doesn’t exist, although there are thought to have been some 50,000 of them in India alone as of 1990. They’re
An Indian hijra
a marginalized and secretive subculture, it says, in urban districts, such as Mumbai and Delhi, as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
According to the Wikipedia article on hijras, “The word hijra is Urdu, derived from the Arabic root hjr in its sense of ‘leaving one’s tribe,’ and has been borrowed into Hindi. The Indian usage has traditionally been translated into English as ‘eunuch’ or ‘hermaphrodite,’ where ‘the irregularity of the male genitalia is central to the definition’.”
In Bangladesh itself, a study was carried out by three academics with funding by the Catalyst Consortium, a US-born global organization that works “to reduce maternal, infant, and child mortality worldwide through family planning and reproductive health projects.”
The three – Shivananda Khan, Sharful Islam Khan, and Paula E. Hollerbach – say that, in Bangladesh, “young males are expected to be strong, competitive, goal-oriented, and are pressured to prove their manhood through sexual encounters.”
Among the issues the study set out to investigate was “gender awareness and understanding” and “social and cultural expectations.”
The study concluded with two demands:
A comprehensive education and sensitisation programme for young men regarding gender disparities and inequalities, masculine violence and sexual harassment should be developed and implemented. This programme will need to be designed for different age groups, educational levels, and employment statuses and delivered in a variety of ways. These could include school and college educational programmes, street theatre, drama, cartoon booklets, youth newspapers, kiosks for youth in recreational sites, radio, television, and cinema.
A range of confidential support and counselling systems should be developed for feminised males (kothis and hijras), and other MSM, that would include sensitising male counsellors and health providers to their needs and supporting and promoting the services that already exist. Appropriate agencies with technical knowledge and expertise will need to be identified to provide training resources and support such initiatives. Bandhu Social Welfare Society is such an agency and provides a national community-based HIV/AIDS and sexual health service primarily to marginalised and stigmatised males in several cities.
The reality TV show on ATN Bangla is set to be recorded next month and will air in February. The channel also recently began a late-night drama serial about hijras.