Since my residence is in Mirpur, I often encounter hijras at either Bijoy Sarani or Agargaon on my way home in the evening. For some reason, I get terrified at the sight of them. Hence, I keep a Tk10 note ready every time I see them, in case they ask for money from me.
They usually don’t harass girls, but still I stay prepared. Maybe it’s due to the stories that I sometimes hear from my male friends or cousins who have been harassed by hijras.
During a recent official field trip to Faridpur, I spotted a few of them at Paturia ferry port. Some of them were getting on the buses and harassing male passengers, when they were refused money. It was not pleasant to hear them shout out derogatory terms in the worst possible ways in front of many passengers, including children who were looking at them and probably thinking “who are they and why are they doing this?.”
All these led me to thinking -- can we as a society not do anything for them so that they do not end up on the streets harassing others for money? Then, I saw the news in a daily newspaper which stated how two hijras pushed a man off a bus in the capital, and then another bus ran over his legs.
I agree that the accused should be punished but what got me thinking is why has this kind of harassment reached such a level.
In 2013, the government recognised hijras as the “third gender,” which earned them the right to education and rights related to public service. The government has also initiated monthly allowances for those enrolled in primary, secondary, higher secondary, and graduate level.
Moreover, old and disabled hijras are being provided with a monthly allowance too. Later on, the government also declared that hijras will be appointed as traffic police in the capital, which is yet to happen.
All these initiatives suggest that the government is trying to integrate hijras into the mainstream society, and for that they deserve a round of applause, even though these are baby steps. I really admire the government for giving hijras such positive recognition.
However, the question is whether the initiatives taken by the government are enough. Are they serving the purpose they were intended for? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
An article published in Dhaka Tribune on February 28, 2016, revealed that the government provides Tk300, Tk450, Tk600, and Tk1,000 among hijra students at the primary, secondary, higher secondary, and graduate levels, respectively, on a monthly basis.
First of all, this amount is not enough to pursue education. Moreover, the education environment is not supportive of them.
The truth is hijras are not accepted as equal by the Bangladeshi society, despite being recognised as citizens. Most people loathe them for their peculiar disposition in the public and so bear an attitude of hatred coupled with fear.
Let’s not be afraid of hijras or avoid them. Let us embrace them and include them in our society, instead. It is not going to be easy, but a smile or a friendly conversation with them can make a big difference and may compel hijras to change their aggressive mindset too
In return, hijras take advantage of this fear and get involved in illegal ways of earning money for their living, upon their realisation of being viewed as outsiders. The main gap between the average person and hijras in the society is created at their birth, when an infant with physical abnormalities is born within a family.
What usually has been happening in this country is that these babies are ignored in their own families. If a hijra community nearby gets to know about such a baby, they rush to take the baby away -- to much of the parents’ relief.
This is how we create the gap within our society. From the very beginning, we treat hijras as outsiders and they grow up with mental trauma and depression. Now, how do you expect these ill-treated people to behave like the average person on the streets?
Just like you and me, they also dream of having a life filled with love and happiness shared with friends and family. But do they have the scope to make that happen? No. They struggle to survive on a daily basis, which compels them to forcefully take money from people on the streets.
All these would not have happened if we, as parents, family, and friends accepted them as they are and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.
I strongly believe that our society would have been better off with their contribution to the society, if they were given a chance with basic human rights.
Is it ever possible? Yes. Let’s not put all responsibilities on our government. They are doing their part. It is us who needs to change our attitudes.
We are so ingrained with social stereotypes that we often fail to realise how our actions are badly affecting a certain section of the society, which is, in a way, bad for all.
Let’s not be afraid of hijras or avoid them. Let us embrace them and include them in our society, instead.
It is not going to be easy, but a smile or a friendly conversation with them can make a big difference and may compel hijras to change their aggressive mindset too.
Nitol Dewan works in the development sector.