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Singing tax-collecting aravani eunuchs.

Photo: BBC
Singing tax-collecting aravani
 

Tax authorities in one Indian state are attempting to persuade debtors to paying their bills — by serenading them with a delegation of singing eunuchs.
Eunuchs are feared and reviled in many parts of India, where some believe they have supernatural powers.
Often unable to gain regular employment, the eunuchs have become successful at persuading people to part with their cash.
The eunuchs will get a commission of 4% of any taxes collected.
In Bihar's capital, Patna, officials felt deploying the eunuchs was the only way to prompt people to pay up.
"We are collecting taxes for the municipal corporation, collecting money from those who have not paid their taxes for years," said Saira, one of the eunuchs on the streets of Patna.
"Tax payment is necessary.   When the corporation won't have any money how will they look after the people?"
Accompanied by police officers, the eunuchs approached shopkeepers and large defaulters on their first foray into tax collection.
"Pay the tax, pay the Patna Municipal Corporation tax," the eunuchs sang as they approached Ram Sagar Singh, who owed 100,000 rupees (£1,180), the AFP news agency reported.
Mortified by the commotion, Mr Singh reportedly agreed to pay up within a week.
The eunuchs collected about 400,000 rupees on their first day of work, authorities said, sharing 16,000 rupees (£188) amongst themselves.
Bharat Sharma, a revenue officer, told the Associated Press agency he was pleased with the eunuchs' work.
"We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy," he said.
       BBC   —   November 6, 2006       
Friday, 3 September, 2004
Can eunuchs get insurance?
By Geeta Pandey
BBC correspondent in Delhi
Eunuchs in India
Indian eunuchs usually live on the margins of society
Angry eunuchs in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are protesting against a state-run insurance company which they allege has refused to issue an insurance policy to a eunuch.
A spokesman for the firm, the Life Insurance Corporation, has denied the allegation.
The eunuch, Janaki, says she was surprised when the company turned down her request for insurance cover.
She alleges that her request was rejected because of the ambiguity about her gender.
'Discrimination'
Janaki makes a meagre living by predicting people's future in a village near the town of Vellore in Tamil Nadu. She is deeply angry at the moment.
She argues that the insurance firm's policies cover damage and loss to sheep, cows, crops and even buildings.
She wants to know that if she is eligible to vote, and have a ration card, why can't she get insurance cover?
A spokesman for the Life Insurance Corporation at their headquarters in Bombay (Mumbai) has denied that eunuchs will not be sold insurance.
But a senior official who requested anonymity told the BBC that, according to the company rules, only men or women can apply for insurance.
He said that, going strictly by the rules, applications from eunuchs are normally rejected.
Janaki says if the matter is not sorted out within three months, she will go to court.
Living on the margins
There are estimated to be about 500,000 eunuchs, hermaphrodites and transvestites in India.
It is traditionally believed that their presence protects against evil, and many earn a living by collecting cash gifts from people during marriages and births.
But now with the decline in their traditional roles, most eunuchs are forced to work as commercial sex workers.
In recent times, there have been some positive tales too — some eunuchs have contested elections and entered the public arena.
But these success stories are rare, and it will still be a long time before the eunuchs can expect some sort of social acceptance.
Thursday, 4 September, 2003
India's eunuchs demand rights
By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore
Festival of Hijras
Time to celebrate — the city of Bangalore in southern India has just hosted the Festival of Hijras (Eunuchs) 2003 — a chance for eunuchs to let their hair down and compare their often traumatic life stories.
She is tall, bold and — many think — sexy!
At a carnival for eunuchs in the high-tech southern Indian city of Bangalore, purple sari-clad Famila invites curious stares from the crowd.
Eunuchs are known in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as hijras or "impotent ones".
Born as boys, they have strong female feelings — some become cross-dressers, others opt for often crude surgery.
In her mid-20s, Famila is unabashedly candid — she makes a living out of sex.
"I am quite comfortable doing sex work. I am not looking for another profession," says Famila as she oversees arrangements for the big do, called the habba.
The annual festival — which celebrates eunuch life with song, dance and folklore — also has a serious message: treat us as normal citizens and give us our rights.
Eunuch pride is celebrated with a beauty contest and a candlelit vigil to spread awareness of the social and economic problems they face.
'Normal life'
"Our plan is to make this festival a platform for all sexual minorities, including gays and lesbians," said Famila of Vividha (Different), an autonomous organisation set up to fight for hijra rights.
Hijras came to the festival from different parts of southern India in different hues — some in trousers, some in two-piece suits called "salwar kameez", and others in saris.
Eunuchs describe their lives in their own words
Also present were a number of interested onlookers.
"We were just curious. We want to see what is this all about," said American student Jesse Kreger, who is visiting the festival with 14 others, all in India to study development issues.
Many eunuchs, like Famila, do work in the sex industry, but not all. It is a widely held assumption that people like Priya, 31, are finding difficult to counter.
"It is true most hijras make a living out of begging or prostitution — but not all," said Priya.
"Nobody gives us jobs. There is gross discrimination against us." She is echoing the complaints of hundreds of fellow hijras across the country.
Priya works for a voluntary agency at Trichy, a town in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state that helps community members come out of the closet.
I became a hijra when I was about 17. I was castrated in Bombay
Priya
Wedlock
Unlike the majority of hijras, Priya is married.
"We fell in love," she says. She met her much younger salesman husband, Vishwanath Babu, in Bombay.
Hijras as a norm don't marry. Even if they do, it is not legally recognised.
"We can't have a registered marriage. Nobody recognises us because we are hijras," says Priya.
Priya Babu, second from right
Priya,
second
from
right,
says
her
marriage
is
not
legally
recognised
Babu, who is also at the festival, says he has no regrets about marrying Priya.
"Of course, my family and friends were against it. But I really love her."
Vidya, a 40-year-old science graduate, is also married but keeps her hubby out of sight to protect him from public scorn and embarrassment.
"I don't want him to suffer. In fact, I have allowed him to have another marriage so that he can have a normal life.
"He has four children. His family does not know that he is married to me!" says Vidya, who speaks fluent English.
Vidya graduated from a missionary-run college in Bangalore.
"I get to see him at least three times a week. He takes care of my needs," she says.
Vidya earns a little money performing Bharatnatyam, a classical dance. She says she enjoys the anonymity of the dance.
"When I dance, they don't know I am a hijra. I dress up like a woman."
Hijras are born male but identify themselves as female and live in close communities.
Even as a child, Priya says she always felt feminine.
"I always felt like a girl. My parents were conservative but I did not want to play a double role for long. I became a hijra when I was about 17. I was castrated in Bombay."
Discrimination
Bangalore alone is home to about 2,000 hijras. The number across India is estimated at between 500,000 and one million.
They are also human beings. They should be given the opportunity to lead a normal life
C Sugaiah
telephone operator
"I'm not allowed to vote. I can't get a passport. This is our plight," says Vidya.
"We don't get seats in buses or trains... Wherever we go we are harassed or humiliated," complains another hijra, Seviarammal.
A report by the People's Union for Civil Liberties released at the festival speaks of numerous illegal detentions and harassment by police of sexual minorities in Karnataka state.
The report says the problem is not "sexual-gender expression" but the conservative society's ignorance, discrimination and intolerance towards sexual minorities.
"The Constitution gives rights on the basis of citizenship and not on the grounds of gender," says Babu Matthew, a human rights activist and professor at the National Law School of India.
And the hijras do have some supporters — like C Sugaiah, a Bangalore telephone operator visiting the festival.
"They are also human beings. They should be given the opportunity to lead a normal life."
Eunuchs at a convention in Bombay
Indian eunuchs traditionally see themselves as women
Tuesday, 4 February, 2003
By Jill McGivering
BBC correspondent in Delhi
A court has said eunuchs are still technically men in a controversial ruling set to force a mayor from a job held for women.
The landmark judgement in the central northern state of Madhya Pradesh has thrown the political status of eunuchs throughout India into doubt.
Its immediate effect was to say that Kamla Jaan — a eunuch — did not qualify for mayor of the city of Katni as the post was reserved for a woman.
Shabnam Mausi, India's first eunuch MP
Eunuchs have gone into politics, with Shabnam Mausi as the country's first MP
Ms Jaan made headlines four years ago when she became the first eunuch in India to be elected to the post of mayor, in the city of Katni.
She has been followed by a number of other eunuchs, elected by a public disillusioned with mainstream politics.
Gender blurs
Now she is being forced from office after a lengthy court battle about her gender.
The case has even confused journalists who previously referred to her as "she", and are now uncertain what title to use.
As part of India's reservation system, Katni's mayor must be a woman.
Although Ms Jaan, like most eunuchs in India, dresses as a woman and describes herself as female, the state's high court has upheld an earlier ruling that she is technically male and therefore fails to qualify.
EUNUCHS IN INDIA
Describe themselves as female
Often live in isolated societies
Earn money through singing and dancing
Some are castrated men, others are transsexuals and hermaphrodites
Ms Jaan's medical history is unclear.
Alternative
In India, eunuchs often form close-knit and ostracised communities.
Some are castrated men but others are transsexuals or hermaphrodites who have been rejected by their families.
Traditionally eunuchs earn money by singing and dancing at weddings and births but recently they have also started to enter politics, standing as independents and offering an alternative to mainstream political parties.
Some have argued that because they do not have family connections nor children, they are less likely to be corrupt.
This landmark case marks the first time a eunuch has been disqualified from holding office on the grounds of gender.
See also:
27 Sep 02 | South Asia
Eunuch reinstated in India mayor row
29 Aug 02 | South Asia
India's first eunuch mayor unseated
14 Jan 01 | South Asia
Eunuchs to enter national politics
06 Mar 00 | South Asia
Eunuch MP takes seat
14 Feb 02 | South Asia
Eunuchs boosted by voter disillusion
09 Mar 01 | Media reports
India stages Ms World for eunuchs
30 Sep 02 | South Asia
Indian eunuchs gather in Bhopal
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For archive purposes, this article is being stored on TheWE.cc website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.