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Humanities Law/Legal Nonfiction Social Sciences

Begging for change: Hijras, law and nationalism

By Begging for change: Hijras, law and nationalism, 2019

This article begins by examining multiple drafts of a parliamentary legislation that aims to provide rights and reservations to transgender persons in India, so as to trace the ways in which hijras have been absorbed into the discourse of nationalism. The most current draft of this bill, ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill of 2016’ shows that despite claims to protect transgender citizens, the state uses the discourse of nationalism to justify the increased governmentalisation of hijra bodies and lives. I bring attention to the state’s insistence on the distance between homosexuals and hijras and the active endorsement of Sexual Reassignment Surgery to argue that the legislations are consolidating heterosexuality rather than making space for queer citizens. The project of heterosexualisation marks the disjuncture between colonial and contemporary ambitions of policing hijras, which have remained remarkably consistent and centred around their economic activity of begging. Based on ethnographic research conducted in rural Odisha, I question the glossing of hijras’ practice of seeking alms or challa as begging, to show how limits of nationalism are drawn and render hijra forms of being as incommensurable with the state.

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