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Of Men, Women and Neuters

In this letter to son Vikas,  Dr. K.L. Kamat shares his experiences with a mysterious cult in India who are often condemned as transvestites and prostitutes. 

July 8, 2000

Dear Vikas,

I am enclosing herewith with an illustrated article titled The Devotees of Yellamma for your website. When we lived in Shastri Chawl in Dharwad (1971), an elderly female devotee (Jogavva) of Goddess Renuka used to seek alms everyday carrying an idol of Renuka. I had taken her pictures with her permission. 

In 1985, I got an opportunity to photograph a team of Yellamma devotees. In that team, there were some Jogappas (male devotees) along with Jogavvas.

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It was a humiliating first time experience for me, but for them, it must be a daily ritual.
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Recently there was a folk festival in Bangalore's Ravindra Kalakshetra and the Jogavva team that the Government had invited was very cooperative for photography and posed in various poses. Many of the pictures I am sending were hence taken. The subsequent day of the festival, they spotted me on the road and enthusiastically offered me breakfast! As we walked to the festival pavilion, so many people ridiculed us with derogatory comments. It was an humiliating first time experience for me, but for them, it must be a daily ritual.

Common people do not distinguish between the devotees of Yellamma also called as Jogavvas and  the Hijras. The Hijras spread all over the India do not have functional sex organs, and can be differentiated into he-shes and she-hes depending on their sexual organs at birth. The former wear sarees (Indian drape), bras, and blouses. They struggle really hard to remove facial hair and look like women. Contrary to this, those born with female organs wear pants or dhoti and try to conceal their breasts. These Hijras team up, play musical instruments, sing, dance, and solicit a living going from place to place. In parts of North India, the naming ceremony of a child is marked by entertainment by Hijras. They perform all kinds of mimicry and entertain guests. Sometimes they pretend as if they are going to kidnap the baby and ask more money. Similarly inviting Hijras for marriage parties is also common when they block the groom from seeing the bride unless their fees are paid. There are instances when poor children are castrated and forced into Hijiras profession. Just like the prostitutes have a madam (Gharawali), the Hijras have a leader. These leaders are getting into politics and flexing their political muscles. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, many have been elected into city and state senates. Do not be surprised if one day we have a Hijra prime minister or president!

Yours affectionately,

See Also:

Update: Soon after this letter was written,  Asha Devi, a Hijra (eunuch), was elected mayor of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.

Opinions are that of the author only. Extracted from a personal letter.

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