Six transgender Indian women, or hijras as they are traditionally known in Hindi, have become the first of their kind to be accepted as cadets in India’s Home Guards – a paramilitary force that assists the police.
The six were accepted into the Home Guards in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu state on the southern tip of India as part of a pilot program to better integrate LGBTI people into the Indian mainstream.
The six transgender women are training with a male unit of cadets and are required to wear the same uniforms as the male cadets but have been provided with their own separate changing room and they may dress as they please when not on training exercises.
Transgender women are heavily marginalized in modern India despite being recognized as part of the culture for thousands of years, and in modern times they have been largely forced into the sex industry or crime in order to survive.
Many of the cadets are former sex workers themselves.
One of them, Trisha, told Live Mint & The Wall Street Journal she had originally found work as a courier but was sacked because of her hijra identity.
Needing to support a family of five she turned to sex work in a brothel in Bangalore at age 25, earning the equivalent of US$800 a month.
She used that money to help pay for her brother’s education and her two sisters’ weddings but could not even attend out of fear of the shame she would bring on her siblings.
‘I didn’t want them to get into trouble with their in-laws,’ Trisha told Live Mint.
One of the other cadets, Sharmiela, could not keep out of the sex industry despite having a masters degree in Computer Applications.
She was thrown out of her job in the IT department of a chain of bookstores.
‘Sex for money, I know is demeaning,’ Sharmiela said, ‘But we long for the love of a man.’
‘If he just asks me if I have eaten, my heart melts for him, because no one really cares about us.’
The initiative was established prior to an Indian Supreme Court ruling that recognized hijras as a legal third gender – something they have traditionally viewed themselves as.