Globalization and change among the hijras of South Asia

Adnan Hossain*, Serena Nanda

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Drawing on the anthropological fieldwork of both authors, this article examines the hijras of India and Bangladesh, emphasizing the changes in their traditional religious and political roles and identities, from ancient times until the present. While the most popular common understanding of the hijras, who are found in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, is that of a third sex or third gender, they are now also characterized as transgender both within South Asia and internationally. Ancient Hindu mythology provides the basic context for the hijra role in South Asia, but Islam is also critical to their social organization, identities, and present culture. Culture contact predating today’s globalization has played an important role in hijra identity, beginning with their role as eunuchs in the Mughul Empire, through British colonialism, anthropological ethnography, and the internet and global social media. Hijra identity has now moved from an exclusive identification with the religious ritual of emasculation, to a global identity merging with LGBT activism. In addition, globally connected NGOS advocating human rights and HIV/AIDS related activism as well as transnational connections between hijras in South Asia and transgender groups in other parts of the world are now also central in hijra lives. In addition, partly through ethnography, gender theory, international tourism, and global media, the previously dominant binary Western sex/gender ideology is changing to a multiple and fluid gender ideology, both internationally and in South Asia. These global connections have resulted in increasing rights for hijras in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, including political, economic, and medical rights, through national legalization of hijras as a third gender.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrans Lives in a Globalizing World
Subtitle of host publicationRights, Identities and Politics
EditorsJ. Michael Ryan
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780429201783
ISBN (Print)9780367193324, 9780367193348
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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