Meaning of the Transgender

Transgender is generally described as an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to their biological sex. TG may also take in persons who do not identify with their sex assigned at birth, which include Hijras/Eunuchs who, describe themselves as third gender and they do not identify as either male or female.

Hijras are not men by virtue of anatomy appearance and psychologically, they are also not women, though they are like women with no female reproduction organ and no menstruation. Since Hijras do not have reproduction capacities as either men or women, they are neither men nor women and claim to be an institutional third gender.

Among Hijras, there are emasculated (castrated, nirvana) men, non- emasculated men (not castrated/akva/akka) and inter-sexed persons (hermaphrodites).

TG also includes persons who intend to undergo Sex Re- Assignment Surgery (SRS) or have undergone SRS to align their biological sex with their gender identity in order to become male or female. They are generally called transsexual persons.

Further, there are persons who like to cross-dress in clothing of opposite gender, i.e transvestites. Resultantly, the term transgender, in contemporary usage, has become an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, including but not limited to pre-operative, post-operative and non-operative transsexual people, who strongly identify with the gender opposite to their biological sex; male and female.


TG Community comprises of Hijras, eunuchs, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Shiv-Shakthis etc. and they, as a group, have got a strong historical presence in our country in the Hindu mythology and other religious texts. The Concept of tritiya prakrti or napunsaka has also been an integral part of vedic and puranic literatures. The word napunsaka has been used to denote absence of procreative capability.

Lord Rama, in the epic Ramayana, was leaving for the forest upon being banished from the kingdom for 14 years, turns around to his followers and asks all the men and women to return to the city. Among his followers, the hijras alone do not feel bound by this direction and decide to stay with him. Impressed with their devotion, Rama sanctions them the power to confer blessings on people on auspicious occasions like childbirth and marriage, and also at inaugural functions which, it is believed set the stage for the custom of badhai in which hijras sing, dance and confer blessings.

Aravan, the son of Arjuna and Nagakanya in Mahabharata, offers to be sacrificed to Goddess Kali to ensure the victory of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war, the only condition that he made was to spend the last night of his life in matrimony. Since no woman was willing to marry one who was doomed to be killed, Krishna assumes the form of a beautiful woman called Mohini and marries him. The Hijras of Tamil Nadu consider Aravan their progenitor and call themselves Aravanis.

Jain Texts also make a detailed reference to TG which mentions the concept of psychological sex. Hijras also played a prominent role in the royal courts of the Islamic world, especially in the Ottoman empires and the Mughal rule in the Medieval India.

Criminal Tribes Act, 1871- A draconian law

Even though historically, Hijras/transgender persons had played a prominent role, with the onset of colonial rule from the 18th century onwards, the situation had changed drastically. During the British rule, a legislation was enacted to supervise the deeds of Hijras/TG community, called the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, which deemed the entire community of Hijras persons as innately criminal and addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.

The Act provided for the registration, surveillance and control of certain criminal tribes and eunuchs and had penalized eunuchs, who were registered, and appeared to be dressed or ornamented like a woman, in a public street or place, as well as those who danced or played music in a public place. Such persons also could be arrested without warrant and sentenced to imprisonment up to two years or fine or both.

Under the Act, the local government had to register the names and residence of all eunuchs residing in that area as well as of their properties, who were reasonably suspected of kidnapping or castrating children, or of committing offences under Section 377 of the IPC, or of abetting the commission of any of the said offences.

Under the Act, the act of keeping a boy under 16 years in the charge of a registered eunuch was made an offence punishable with imprisonment up to two years or fine and the Act also denuded the registered eunuchs of their civil rights by prohibiting them from acting as guardians to minors, from making a gift deed or a will, or from adopting a son. Act has, however, been repealed in August 1949.

Section 377 of IPC

Section 377 of the IPC found a place in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, prior to the enactment of Criminal Tribes Act that criminalized all penile- non-vaginal sexual acts between persons, including anal sex and oral sex, at a time when transgender persons were also typically associated with the prescribed sexual practices.

Reference may be made to the judgment of the Allahabad High Court in Queen Empress v. Khairati (1884) ILR 6 All 204, wherein a transgender person was arrested and prosecuted under Section 377 on the suspicion that he was a habitual sodomite and was later acquitted on appeal. In that case, while acquitting him, the Sessions Judge stated as follows:

“This case relates to a person named Khairati, over whom the police seem to have exercised some sort of supervision, whether strictly regular or not, as a eunuch. The man is not a eunuch in the literal sense, but he was called for by the police when on a visit to his village, and was found singing dressed as a woman among the women of a certain family. Having been subjected to examination by the Civil Surgeon (and a subordinate medical man), he is shown to have the characteristic mark of a habitual catamite the distortion of the orifice of the anus into the shape of a trumpet and also to be affected with syphilis in the same region in a manner which distinctly points to unnatural intercourse within the last few months.”

Even though, he was acquitted on appeal, this case would demonstrate that Section 377, though associated with specific sexual acts, highlighted certain identities, including Hijras and was used as an instrument of harassment and physical abuse against Hijras and transgender persons.

Types of Transgenders living in India traditionally

We can perceive a wide range of transgender related identities, cultures or experiences which are generally as follows:


Hijras are biological males who reject their masculine identity in due course of time to identify either as women, or not- men, or in-between man and woman, or neither man nor woman. Hijras can be considered as the western equivalent of transgender/transsexual (male-to-female) persons but Hijras have a long tradition/culture and have strong social ties formalized through a ritual called reet (becoming a member of Hijra community).

There are regional variations in the use of terms referred to Hijras. For example, Kinnars (Delhi) and Aravanis (Tamil Nadu). Hijras may earn through their traditional work: Badhai (clapping their hands and asking for alms), blessing new-born babies, or dancing in ceremonies. Some proportion of Hijras engage in sex work for lack of other job opportunities, while some may be self-employed or work for non- governmental organisations. (See UNDP India Report (December, 2010).


Eunuch refers to an emasculated male and intersexed to a person whose genitals are ambiguously male-like at birth, but this is discovered the child previously assigned to the male sex, would be recategorized as intesexexd as a Hijra.

Aravanis and Thirunangi

Hijras in Tamil Nadu identify as Aravani. Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Welfare Board, a state governments initiative under the Department of Social Welfare defines Aravanis as biological males who self-identify themselves as a woman trapped in a males body. Some Aravani activists want the public and media to use the term Thirunangi to refer to Aravanis.


Kothis are a heterogeneous group. Kothis can be described as biological males who show varying degrees of femininity which may be situational. Some proportion of Kothis have bisexual behavior and get married to a woman. Kothis are generally of lower socioeconomic status and some engage in sex work for survival. Some proportion of Hijra-identified people may also identify themselves as Kothis. But not all Kothi identified people identify themselves as transgender or Hijras.


Jogtas or Jogappas are those persons who are dedicated to and serve as a servant of goddess Renukha Devi (Yellamma) whose temples are present in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Jogta refers to male servant of that Goddess and Jogti refers to female servant (who is also sometimes referred to as Devadasi). One can become a Jogta (or Jogti) if it is part of their family tradition or if one finds a Guru (or Pujari) who accepts him/her as a Chela or Shishya (disciple). Sometimes, the term Jogti Hijras is used to denote those male-to-female transgender persons who are devotees/servants of Goddess Renukha Devi and who are also in the Hijra communities.

This term is used to differentiate them from Jogtas who are heterosexuals and who may or may not dress in womans attire when they worship the Goddess. Also, that term differentiates them from Jogtis who are biological females dedicated to the Goddess. However, Jogti Hijras may refer to themselves as Jogti (female pronoun) or Hijras, and even sometimes as Jogtas.


Shiv-Shakthis are considered as males who are possessed by or particularly close to a goddess and who have feminine gender expression. Usually, Shiv-Shakthis are inducted into the Shiv- Shakti community by senior gurus, who teach them the norms, customs, and rituals to be observed by them. In a ceremony, Shiv-Shakthis are married to a sword that represents male power or Shiva (deity). Shiv- Shakthis thus become the bride of the sword.

Occasionally, Shiv- Shakthis cross-dress and use accessories and ornaments that are generally/socially meant for women. Most people in this community belong to lower socio-economic status and earn for their living as astrologers, soothsayers, and spiritual healers; some also seek alms.


National Legal Service Authority v. Union of India, (2014)