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History Nonfiction Other Social Sciences

The paradox of recognition: hijra, third gender and sexual rights in Bangladesh

By Adnan Hossain, 2017

Hijra, the iconic figure of South Asian gender and sexual difference, comprise a publicly institutionalised subculture of male-bodied feminine-identified people. Although they have existed as a culturally recognised third gender for a very long time, it is only recently that hijra have been legally recognised as a third gender in several South Asian countries. This paper focuses on the transformation of this long-running cultural category of third gender into a legal category of third gender in Bangladesh, showing that the process of legal recognition has necessitated a simultaneous mobilisation of a discourse of disability in the constitution of hijra as citizens worthy of rights. While the international community views the recognition of a third gender as a progressive socio-legal advance in the obtaining of sexual rights in a Muslim majority Bangladesh, locally, hijra are understood as a special group of people born with ‘missing’ or ambiguous genitals delinked from desire. Furthermore, what was previously a trope of disfigurement based on putative genital status has now been transformed into a discourse of disability, a corollary to which several interest groups, namely the civil society, the state, international community and hijra themselves, have all been party.

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