The Curse of the Hijra

Hijra, India

The first time I saw two hijras in a hotel lobby fighting with the receptionist, I was very confused. Loud and obnoxious, aggressive and lewd, these women did not behave like any other Indian women I had seen. Why? Because, as it turns out, they were not women – at least not in a traditional sense.

In the West, for a lack of a better term, hijras would be called transgender or transsexuals. But their reality is much more complex than that. Exactly what or who they are is a matter of opinion. Transvestites, eunuchs, hermaphrodites, prostitutes, the third sex, performers or witches. We’ve heard it all.

Dressed in traditional saris, wearing make-up and jewellery, we’ve encountered hijras on many occasions. In small villages or large cities, on trains or in hotels, hijras go around casting curses on men and then demanding money to change the curse to good luck. And they can be quite convincing. Often you can hear them before you see them. Loud finger snapping followed by a popping hand gesture announces their arrival before they shove their rupee-demanding hands in people’s faces. And they don’t take no for an answer. Indian men usually pay up quickly afraid of bad luck not to mention obscene gestures and profane language hurled at them. Once they cough up the cash they get a blessing and are safe from the curses – until the next hijra comes along.

It’s definitely amusing watching Indians squirm and pull out rupee notes to get rid of the hijras. Not being overly superstitious, Tony and I usually just smile and then ignore them. Not so for this photo. I actually followed the hijra through the train and caught up with her in the kitchen where she was counting her money. I wasn’t going to take any chances and payed 10 rupees before I asked to take her picture. She straightened her sari and agreed with a smile. Then she put her hand on my head and mumbled what I hoped was a blessing.

But there are more profitable ways to make money than hassling people on the trains. Hijras are known to crash weddings and miraculously appear at birth celebrations of male babies demanding lots of money. The parents and newly weds are eager to pay for good fortune. I mean, what other options do they have? It’s either cash or curse.

Although most hijras are able to eke out a living and some can rake in the bucks working the high-end wedding circuit, their social status is not much better than that of the Untouchables. Outcast intersexual beings, hijras are regularly forced into prostitution and are often subject to police brutality.

But don’t mistake them for lowly prideless beings. One exceptional hijra we encountered moved through our train loudly popping her hands cursing the men. When she came to Tony and me, she skipped over us, neither cursing us nor demanding money. Hearing the surrounding Indians debate why we had been skipped, she announced that foreigners are constantly being subjected to an unending line of Indians demanding handouts. With tremendous pride, she stated that she had spared us to show us that there is more to India than beggars!

22 responses to “The Curse of the Hijra”

  1. avatar Urmila says:

    Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for the interesting reda, I really appreciate your attempt to bring into light India’s ‘third gender’.

    Being a community development journalistI have spent years doing research on this special community and have found, that this small community of roughly 7, 50,000 Indians are actually dying of poverty, no livelihood programs and mass targeted by discrimination. They do not earn as well as you thought or assumed. They have turned aggressive because only that seems to work now.

    Infact the traditional mode of earning by taking money from families at birth and weddings is waning down rapidly and this community has been forced to sex work.With prostitution has arrived HIV and AIDS in this closed community. With discrimination so sizeable these victims are unable to access ART Drugs for treatment of HIV and are stuck in a situation, where only education and awareness will rescue them!!

    They were born as XXY-47 males genetically, a single extra “X” chromosome could ransack the life of an individual this way!!!!

    I pray India wakes up to our third generation ad I hope we can offer them more than just a 10 rupee note the next time!!

    Urmila Chanam
    Worked for United Nations Organization &
    a journalist for World Pulse, Portland US.

    • avatar Thomas says:

      Hi Urmila,

      Thank you for your comment. We learned about hijras while traveling through India for 15 months. As you pointed out, many of these women are in very difficult situations, and talking about it in the media can definitely help raise awareness. Keep up the good work. India needs more humanitarians like you.


  2. avatar Aman says:

    hi thomas read ur blog about “curse of hijra”really appreciate it but still there is a confusion in my mind did their curse really happens ,i mean what should we do ,we should pay them the amount they are asking.

    • avatar Thomas says:

      Of course, as a foreigner I would like to sweep in and say “stop that nonsense and don’t let those hijras blackmail you into paying them.” But I realize, we also have many superstitions in our countries and do strange things to ward off bad luck. For example I don’t walk under ladders, I don’t fly on Friday the 13th and I hate when a black cat crosses my path. Every now and then I challenge my luck, but “knock on wood” nothing bad has happened yet.

      I guess, you have to follow your gut feeling. For me personally, if there’s money involved, superstition goes out the window.

  3. avatar An says:

    What were the other debates on why a hijra skipped you and friend after cursing another man?

    • avatar Tony says:

      I think the Indians just thought he skipped us because we were foreigners. But clearly, the hijra wanted to make a major statement by skipping us. It was actually a fascinating and enlightening experience.

  4. avatar Carl says:

    We shifted to our new house hijras came and´╗┐ asked for rupees 21000.My mom gave them rs1000 and one of them cursed and said this house will fall into pieces there will be cancer and miserable things.Now it has been 2 months and my father is very ill tomorrow he will get tested for blood cancer as he is showing blood cancer symptoms.

    I m very depressed please help me.Can any hijra take back the curse is it possible?Please help me friends

  5. avatar arijit says:

    This is all bulls**t. If they really had ‘powers’ to curse, shouldn’t the governments employ them to get rid of pesky opposition / enemies of the state? And if they do have such ‘powers’ would they still be poor and in such a deplorable state? No. In fact, I have been harassed by them, and even assaulted once when I refused to pay. It pis**s me off that people are superstitious, but it is more about safety many a times instead of luck.

  6. avatar preity says:

    Realy the curse will affect us?

  7. avatar rits says:

    I don’t feel like their curses come true..but then was Carl’s situation a coincidence? I am very confused because I can’t seem to find an explanation for that.

  8. avatar Pradeep says:

    Dear Friend,

    I had always believed that only genuine people (regardless hizra or non hizra)can either bestow benediction or curse someone and only for geniune reasons.You get benedictions only when you did really good to someone and not just for anything you do. similarly the curse can be given only by genuine people only for malafied intend of yours and you did real damage to them (that too rare case else we would have not required indian penal code to punish people). I find no place for non giving money does to qualify for latter as there are so many needy people but is it not possible to give to every one of them (what is difference between a Blind person and Hizra) when they all are struggling for livelihood? in fact the blind person would be more requesting and wont curse you for non giving money. in case of hizra, i believe this is hegemoni or deliberate.

    Now let have some logical thought on hizra community.

    Hizra communicaty is not a particular race but mixture of many type of third sex people (study some good research over internet and books). castrated, non castratede, intersexed, some gay & lesbian, homosextuals etcs who all take refuge in the term hizra. is there a particular rule that anyone joining this community will get automatic power to curse regardless their act?? strange to say that some people who are struggling to identity suddendly join a community and by behaving like them and become power to curse??

    Second, Hizra or better expressed ‘eunuch’ are found all around the world from America to china, Russia to Arab, now how they gain power to curse only in India and not in other countries why just in India? are they incarnation? so lets see the Hindu Mythology.

    there are several mythical stories for benediction by krishna or ram but actually i never heard of any such thing in my life such so far above direct text such stories from ramayan, mahabarata or Geeta. Also i came across a book which has done thorough research on the third sex person in hindu mythology (written by a third sex person to justify their demand for normal human rights). i didnt found anything stating such special benediction. in fact in few ancient text you will find (and it is logical too) that in fact the transgender/neuctar life itself is a curse due to past severe misconduct (saying it mythological way) as said by the lord shiva to goddess parvati. you will find this practical. it is often said that not having sex or living non family is the source of power but isnt that is part of their life (or result of above punishment) then how can the same be their strength. Now add up the arijit comment mentioned above here. i believe baba ramdev, rahul gandhi, salman khan, atal bihari vajpeji must also be having such powers.

    we indian are inborn superstitious like there was a norm easrtwhile not to cross sea as it bring misfortune and suddendly some people came from the same sea route and rules over us for 200 years!!! now we have adjusted and now that norm is not continued.

    Problem is a supersition that once it enter in your mind, every thing will feel to happening in that way. its human pshycology. now we have two cases here like Arijit and carl, both have faced similar situation but experience of both is diffent. it is we who correlated any mishappening with curse. As per an estimate, there are approx number hizra from 0.75 million to 2 million (20 lakhs). let take avg 10 lakhs. so according to goodluck/curse theory, there are 10 lakhs persons with power to give Goodluck/curse for 10 rupees. these 10 lakhs people whould be meeting at say minimum of 50 people per day and 10 refusing to pay ( 1 Crores persons per day), that means within 125 days our country will be devasted!!! modify it suitably for any change of assumption. even considering overlappin cases like 10 times you given but one time refused still being victim of curse. now just look around it is really true??? hope you will get answers for your questions.

    We indian by nature, anything abnormal as per view we treat it as a god creation by virtue without any fact analysis. this has given the birth to tradition of good luck theory (and curse theory on opposite end) and people have followed it blindly. there were several superstitions prevailing like sati, untouchibility, even brahman’s were also believed to curse which they used for long time and grossly refuted now as they consist of near about one fourth of our population. our legendary grandfathers have remove most of these superstitions and we are fighting with just few similar like these hizra good luck theory.

    Come on, the God sitting upside in not ignorant and it does not mean that he can not differentiate between which acts are right and which are not. have trust on him.

    remember for assgining a curse or benediction, a person need not to be a hizra. in fact malafied act to any very comman people can be reason for curse thought even this too is not a big reason nowadays. As when there is no effect of curse of even big crimes such as rapes, loots then how come a demand for money can be a reason for curse??

    also to understand the third sex in ancient hindu way, you can refer a books “Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex: Understanding Homosexuality,Transgender Identity,and Intersex Conditions Through Hinduism” by Amara Das Wilhelm.

  9. avatar Mahin says:

    Once i was train an hijra had came to me demanding money at that time i didnt know that it was a hijra..i thought it was a ordinary women so that i had fighted and strongly removed her hand when it had came to touch me… i had heard a lot about them and worried that what would happen if it curses me..?? Can an hijra curse….can that curse led us to anything bad ??

  10. avatar Mahin says:

    Prateep thanks 4 the comment

  11. avatar xoy says:

    Same thing happened to me. A shemale cursed me, bad mouthed me for all nonsense reasons. Although she is the one who cheated me. I don’t know how real it is. These are just ways to pull out money from your pocket. God has given them everything, why don’t they work and earn. What is the point in looting people.

  12. avatar Ankita says:

    The same has happened as one of the above cases. We bought a new hpuse n hijras came over and asked for 21000 rupees which is a lot of money for us. We refused to give them that much n started negotiating. But they cursed us so badly as in you all aare goiing to die. Tthey said for my husband that he will die in an accidemt n all that i am really worried and scared. Hope whatever they say would never come true.

  13. avatar Dev Sharma says:

    I am sharing an incident happened with my family yesterday, last week my younger brother was married and hijras came to our house when no male was present in house, they demanded rs 1.25 lacs as ‘shagun’ obviously this was beyond our capacity as ours is a middle class salaried family and me and my brother are the only earning member in family. (I would like to mention here we are against dowry and we didnt took big some of money from the bride side)
    the hijras started to threaten my mother and my wife to give them the money and also a gold ring.
    when my wife opposed this they said ‘you are acting over smart, you are suffering because of your this attitude’ Here i like to mention another thing i have a lovely duaghter of 1.5 year who had a hole in her heart since birth, every body in neighborhood and nearby well wisher knows about it and i am sure as these hijras comes daily to our locality and they also knows about this.
    My wife is seriously hurt by such comments and is under a mental trauma these hijras used my child’s illness to loot money from my wife and mother threatening them to curse and even undress in front of public to ashame my family and finally looted my family for rs 25000.
    I want to make a forum against these hijras and make a movement to stop them from harassing other innocent families like mine
    any one who want to join this may contact me on my below e mail ID

  14. avatar baby says:

    when i was going to shop, a hijra looted 500 rs from me saying all my bad days are gone. i feel so disturbed. that is my hard earn money sacrifed so many sleepless night i am working and they looted it . i feel hurted.

  15. avatar anand says:

    Be good. Do Good. Every thing else in the name of curse is fake.

  16. avatar Rahul says:

    When i was moving on train to my village hijra came near to me and scolding all the persons near me including me. Before that one person how is sitting beside me he clapped his hands like hijra so that hijra hear the sound came to us and scolded that every one will get bad luck , no one will be safe .every one will spoill their life . I do my work in any field but in the matter of hijra i didnt do any thing , i know the one who clapped like higra , but i don’t want involve in that problem so that i didn’t tell to hijra who the clapped guy was and after that he scolded very badly . Is there any harm for me in my studies or anything else.

    When i am returning to college from home when i was sleeping in train one hijra came to me and asked money i gave to hijra then he blessed me closing her eyes what she blessed i don’t know but closing her eyes she blessed, is it good for me or not.

    One hijra is blessed and one one hijra is scolded so is there any harm

    I used to give money to every hijra but only one hijra blessed me as well as one hijra scolded. Me is there any problem to me please reply

  17. avatar Madhavi Kulkarni says:

    I am an engineer and who always believed in science but my experience made me believe that there is such thing as hijra and curses. A hijra cursed me and I did go through a very bad phases in my life. Hijra curses do affect on your lives. Just staying away is more practical.

  18. avatar jay says:

    any body knows how long effect leaves

  19. avatar Karthik says:

    The curse thing is total bull crap , it’s a efficient way of looting the hard earned money of innocent people , Why don’t they go the well guarded 5 star hotel and curse them for non compiling ( it never happens because you know power people none can fiddle)

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