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India's transgender strive for rights

Neither officially male nor female, almost a million Indians can't vote. That may be about to change.

“But, at nightfall, things change. Men treat her as an object of sex and do not give her the respect she deserves.”

Hijra are believed to “be endowed with the power to confer fertility on newlyweds or newborn children,” according to "With Respect to Sex," a book on sexual and social differences in India written by Gayatri Reddy, who teaches anthropology and women’s studies at Emory University.

Tanya said she has not cast a vote since joining the hijra community, since all of her legal documents list her as a male. A sex-reassignment operation one year ago made it even more complicated to comply with the prescribed documentation.

Most hijra are impoverished, and cannot afford sex-reassignment surgery, which costs as much 8 to 15 lakhs rupees ($17,000 to $31,000), according to Pinaki Mitra, a hijra who works with NAZ India, a New Delhi-based NGO working to prevent HIV/AIDS. Many — it is impossible to know what percentage — opt for castration, as it costs a relatively low 5,000 to 6,000 rupees ($100 to $120).

Bullying and sexual abuse from classmates prompt many hijra to drop out of school, resulting in high illiteracy rates and exacerbating unemployment. But even hijra who do receive an education have a difficult time finding a job, Mitra said. She, for example, finished college with a three-year degree in hotel management, but still faced obstacles.

“I was very happy, because I thought, 'No one is going to keep me from getting a job,'” she said. “But, much to my despair, I found that life was much more difficult.”

Hotel managers refused to give her a job because she was a hijra, and she said she was forced to turn to sex work to pay her bills. Hers is a common story.

The Indian government must take steps to prevent such discrimination, Tripathi said.

“The government should really think of the hijra in India, and we should get our rights, finally, after so many years of independence,” she said. “We are productive people; we can also give something back to the community and to society.”

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