Religious Perception of Trans-Identity and the Lacunas in its Interpretation in the 21 Century India
Updated: Mar 24
Abstract. This paper examines the central role of Trans-Identity and the Lacunas in its Interpretation in the 21st Century; in the administration of Indian personal Laws. This has historically occurred at three levels. First, elucidation on the Life of a Transgender in 21st Century India where in contemporary India, transgender are objected to daily exploitation and degradation, accompanied with containing transgender into gender stereotype, including discussion on how the Court additionally administered the fundamental rights to them in a similar manner as they are to males and females. Second, from the viewpoint of ancient Indian Hindu mythology, literature, scriptures and their momentous beneficence towards the advancement of society and culture. Third, the advancement of Muslim Religious doctrine in Quran is clear in its approach to genetic determinations, whereby it has been pointed that Allah is the only “One who shapes you in the womb as He pleases”. Fourth, the Scriptural Background of Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Among the central interests of Religious scriptures from Hindu and Muslim literature was the ‘Need versus Contribution’ concept, in the Religious Perception of Trans-Identity and this paper uses knowledge developed about interpretation of Trans-identity to illustrate the way ‘equitable, not equal principles’ must be adopted in order to remedy the problem of the destitute, among transgender in India.
The Life of a Transgender in 21st Century India
First contrived by Virginia Prince, who laid the groundwork for the cross dresser movement in 1970 in the United States, ‘Transgender’ as a term “reflects those who refuse their socially sanctioned gender and reject the nomenclature which places them in the men and women gender binary.” (Beasley, 2005)(1). Antecedent to getting acceptance as ‘Transgender’, they were acknowledged as ‘Transsexual’. Transgender are called by distinct names around the world. South Asian Countries like India refer to them as ‘Hijras’, a term of abuse, borrowed from Urdu, indicative of “a person who has moved out of his community or tribe” (Tripathi, L. Me Hijra, 2015)(2).
In India, varied terminologies are used for transgender that differ from province to province. In the Northern and Western parts of India such as Delhi and Maharashtra, they are termed as ‘Kinnar’. In Tamil Nadu, they are known as ‘Thirunangi’ or ‘Aravani’. In Andhra Pradesh, male transgender are called as ‘Shiv-Shakti’ and there are some share of transgender, who recognize themselves as ‘Kothis’, though a section of Kothis do not identify themselves as transgender.
The foundation of transgender in India dates back as early as the Vedic period. Hijras were once cherished and time-honored group in Indian civilization. The Vedas, including other ancient Hindu texts, include eunuchs and figures including both male and female attributes. They were considered to bring luck and administer distinctive fertility power (Delli Swararao, 2016, pp) (3). Their continuation can be observed in our celebrated epics ‘The Ramayana’ and ‘The Mahabharata’. The perception of ‘napumsaka’ or had been an indispensable element of the Hindu tradition, folklore, epic and Puranic literature (Michelraj, M, 2015) (4). Throughout the Mughal Period, eunuchs carried out administrative functions. For protracted periods, they had been effecting ‘badhai’ or sanctification at birth and wedding ceremonies. Only post-arrival of British, their stature was diminished and they were dissipated from the main stream of community. The colonization influenced a contrasting attitude against the transgender. They were begun to be behaved towards indifferently and the chronic lampooning of their physique and manner led to a psychological stress. Nonchalantly the society passes distinct abusive assertions and even the family censures them. The present status of transgender in India is deplorable and in imperative need of reforms, by taking into consideration the past considerations from the British era. (Subapriya, K, 2016)(5).
In contemporary India, transgender are objected to daily exploitation and degradation. Increasing quota of majority transgender in India are involved in beggar occupation. Accompanied with begging, mass among them are enforced to involve within them the profession of prostitution. They constitute a common spectacle in approximately every traffic signal of cities or town’s railway, where they are found begging, clapping their hands and simultaneously blessing those who provide them with alms. HIV and other ailments are a widespread ordeal among them. Dissipated by oldness and sickness, they are contrived to dependence on drugs and liquor and more frequently then not to attempt suicide. Defeated relationships, swindled by transphobic people and opposing the power play of authority and law, majority of them end their life deplorably. For a protracted period, transgender, being evaluated as aberrant, had been officially described as ‘Others’. Broadly speaking the classification of transgender is far-reaching and comprehensive in its address, expressing the identity crisis and variety of practices epitomized between or beyond the classification of male and female.
Locating Transgender identity in Ancient Hindu Mythology and Scriptures
This section yearns to discover and recognize the identity and compelling position of transgender in ancient Indian Hindu mythology, literature, scriptures and their momentous beneficence towards the advancement of society and culture. The divergent shades of sexuality, gender performance and sociality have consistently been existing in human race from long-standing time. The antiquity of drafted and recorded traditions of adoration between the individuals of the same sex is to be situated in mythology. Mythologist Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik in his book ‘The Man who was a woman and other Queer Tales of Hindu Lore’ accurately observes that fantasy apprehend the composite unconscious of community and that this explains they emulate deep-rooted ideology and varying sexualities which may be at odds with restraining civil mores.
The identification of transgender in ancient India and Hinduism is decidedly significant in multiple ways. Our inherent modern-day civilization has only lately begun to comprehend gender identity, sexual orientation and our constitutional and civil systems are just starting to catch up with and integrate such persons in an extensively fair and realistic way. As contemporary civilization evolve into more accessible and informed, it will be insurmountable to disregard on purpose and mistreat these section of people for much prolonged but ancient India had already orate and formerly resolved this issue multitude of years ago in the course of its own civilization’s development.
There is to date a conception of books on all prospects of gay and lesbian debates, even in connection with multiple religions, but there is very little knowledge regarding homosexuality, transgender and Hinduism. This is a disgrace since Hinduism has decidedly to make declaration about this topic; more so, we understand, than any other religion. Accordingly, it is our wish to offer an all-inclusive and exhaustive viewpoint on this topic. The knowledge about the Vedic doctrine of people of the third sex or tritiya-prakriti, nonetheless, will be convenient and relevant to understand the doctrine of transgender. During the whole of Vedic literature as we recognize, the sex or/and gender of the human being is distinctinly divided into three separate classifications, according to nature or prakriti. These are: Male or pums-prakriti, female or stri-prakriti and the third sex or tritiya-prakriti.
God Shiva is held as the ultimate embodiment of masculinity. However, Shiva’s Ardhanarishvara form is a hermaphroditic composite of goddess Parvati and God Shiva. Shiva transformed himself because goddess Parvati wished to experience Shiva’s feelings, so that their inner masculine and feminine physical forms could co-occur and coalesce. A similar hermaphroditic union also occurs between God Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi.
These transgender stories are not only well accepted by the Hindu devotees. Nevertheless, till date there are evidence on ground to support such contentions. The veracity of these contentions lies in the existence of archeological facts and existence. For instance, there is a temple of goddess Mohini (avatar of Lord Vishnu) situated in Ryali, Andhra Pradesh that validates the existence of goddess Mohini, who is worshipped by millions of devotees. Thereby showing that Hindu devotees accept the concept of god as Male, Female and Gender neutral (Ibid).It can also be argued that Hindu religion was way ahead of its time to have recognized transgenderism or homosexuality, leaving no scope for gender bias.
Transgender Identity in the Quran and Surah 42 Ash-Shuraa
In Islam, men that resemble women are referred to as “mukhannath”, and women that resemble men are referred to as “mutarajjilat”. “Khuntha” is referred to an intersex person, who can either be male or a female. Even though there is no direct mention of either “mukhannath”, “mutarajjilat”, or “khuntha” in Quran, the holy book does recognize the fact that there are people, who are neither male nor female, or are in between, and/or those who could be “non-procreative” (Surah 42 Ash-Shuraa)(7). Further, Verse 49-50 give description to a variety of genders and sexualities, which are ambiguous according to the general heteronormative notion of society.
Quran is clear in its approach to genetic determinations, whereby it has been pointed that Allah is the only “One who shapes you in the womb as He pleases” (Qur’an 3:6). Therefore, all physical and sexual traits and inclinations of human beings are described to exist with the pleasure and permission of Allah, and no one should be subject to any discrimination. However, the same cannot be said to have been followed in the Muslim community as “mukhannath” and “mutarajjilat” have been considered as an abnormality or illness caused by depression, and are therefore, considered as deviation from God’s provisions and human nature, and hence, has been strictly prohibited in Islam since ages. Another reason for this occurrence is that because of the absence of any specific explanation about transgender in the al-Qu’ran, the secondary sources like Hadith have had differing explanations to the transgender phenomenon, and interpreters have interpreted the texts according to their personal thoughts:
In the Hadith presented by Imam al-Bukhārī, transgenders have been referred to as being ‘cursed’ (Ibn ‘Abbās r.a.)(8).
In the Hadith represented by Imam al-Bukhārī, with a different matan (redaction) and sanad, wherein reference has been made to get the transgender perpetrators out of the house (Al-Bukhārī, 2002, p. 1486) (9).
In the Hadith represented by Imam Abū Dāwūd, men and women are forbidden to resemble each other, especially in terms of clothing and jewellery (Abū Dāwūd 2009a, p. 195) (10).
In Musnad, Imam Ahmad represented that prophet’s malediction to transgender perpetrators, also included those who helped them in the process of resembling their opposite sex (Ḥanbal, n.d., p. 123)(11).
In the Hadith represented by Imam Abū Dāwūd, the exile punishments given to transgender for resembling their opposite sex has been described, where they were exiled from their family and relations, to stop them from further influencing others, and to repent for their acts (Abū Dāwūd, pp. 288–289) (12).
Therefore, Hadiths have created many inconsistencies, contradictions, and distortions of facts. Considering that these act as definitive and reliable sources of Islam, they are deeply problematic and promote hate crimes against homosexuals, and also include justifications for execution and exiles. The word هنيِِ َ َشب ت ح امل means men resembling women and vice versa, in terms of appearance and character aspect and hadith acts as a postulate of transgender in Islam.
Majority of the Muslim Community, even today, upholds the conservative predominant opinion and interpretation as provided in al-Quran Al-Hujurat : 13, Allah has created a perfect form of humankind and has determined their gender identities based on their sex of male and female, which are hereditary biologically, (Yayasan Penyelenggara Penterjemah/ Pentafsir Al-Qur’an, 2004, p. 517)(13) and the interpretation of Quranic verse (4:119) that a person is forbidden to change what Allah has created, and any adverse act shall take the shape of Satan and go against God’s intrinsic nature, and As a result, recognizing yourself as a transgender is seen as haram and something that deserves to be cursed.
It is interesting to note here the glory period for transgender, that existed during the 15th and 19th century, where they played a vital role in the royal courts of the Ottoman Empires and the Mughal empires. Transgender had risen to be identified as political advisors, generals, guardians, and even administrators. Under the Mughal era, transgender were termed as “Khawjasaras”, as a sign of dignity and respect, and played a crucial role in the politics of the Mughal era. This was a time when they enjoyed powers that even the ministers of the kingdom failed to identify with and had control of intelligence officers and royal confidants.
Scriptural Background of Hebrew Bible and the New Testament
The Torah and the Old Testament reveal the traditional, orthodox (mis)conceptions of gender. Genesis 1:1 says: “God created the heavens and the earth.” The interpretation of “and” in this verse is that- God has not only created the binaries of heavens and earth but also everything that exists in-between. Implicating that “and” encompasses a spectrum and not a dichotomy. Despite “and” being widely acknowledged as a spectrum in the Christian community, the interpretation seems to have been adulterated conveniently when it comes to its application on gender. Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Churchly Christians interpret the “and” in this verse differently. They claim that the “and” between male and female classifies only two genders and thus reinforce the binary, undermining any other gender identities (Punt, Jeremy, 2007) (14). However, this interpretation of “and” is mala fide in essence and evidently hypocritical in interpretation. Being Transgender is not only to cross-dress, it is to embody a gender that does not align with the one assigned at birth. The orthodox churchly notion is that being Transgender does not respect the sanctity of human body envisioned by “God” (male/female).
The New Testament reveals the queerness of “God”. Offspring of a virgin, Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:26- 35) has instigated interesting possibilities in understanding the queerness of “his” gender. Although metaphorically, Ephesians 5:29-32 says ‘a man and wife will unite to be one flesh’, and with males being included as Christ’s brides, the gender dichotomy is softened and rather queered. "If only at a symbolic level, all Christian men are queer" (Loughlin 2005, 24). In the New Testament, cross-dressing metaphors are used in positive contexts (Colossians 3:9-10; Romans 13:14), (Punt, 2007) and the only cloth mandated to practise Christianity is one’s devotion to Christ. The binaries of gender appear to be fading in the New Testament and a queer scripture can be witnessed. For instance, Saint Paul becomes a mother giving birth (Galatians 4:19). In addition, since gender was understood from a binary perspective, the fact that Galatians 3:28 says “nor there is male and female” implies that there exists no single gender but that of God, who as aforementioned is himself queer. The inclusiveness towards eunuchs in the New Testament is particularly remarkable.
‘Need versus Contribution’: Suggestions for Transgender rights upliftment
The laws or the bills should concentrate more on avoidance of discrimination and violence rather than state governance. Directed grooming for the transgender people should begin from primary school years. Teacher and the society people can play a decisive role in the admittance of the transgender. The atmosphere of the educational ordinance must be such that the transgender students feel protected. There is a requirement to administer vocational education at the higher secondary level and secondary level to the transgender students so that they can develop themselves for the appropriate job. Conventional training must be there to the teachers and other representative of the institutes so that they can supervise such category of students accordingly. The government and the social institutes must contribute free textbooks, free textbooks, free hostel accommodations and other facilities at sponsored rates for students who belong to the transgender group accordingly in order to halt the drop-outs rates and to make advance education and professional education receptiveness by the society. The Hindu, Muslim and Christian mythological literature stand as evidence to the level of acceptability of Transgender representation in India throughout the last five to six centuries.
Exclusive coaching should be administered to the candidates for the cutthroat competitive examinations. All the academic institutes/ universities must have counselling and guidance cell dedicated for the transgender students. Even the organizations must have an anti-discrimination cell to oversee any arrangement of discrimination in contrast to the transgender society. On the line of precise anti-ragging cell, there should be zero resilience towards any occurrence of the complaint or discrimination. All the native and international LGBTQIA human right institutes should collaborate and spread their hands, construct multiple projects and direct extensive action. Public awareness should be constructed further through medium of mass media. Resilience and appreciation should be taught in the early childhood education years, accompanied with other principled standards, which find detailed reference in the religious literature ranging from Hindu trinity of gods represented in Mahabharat: Brahma (The creator), Vishnu (The protector) and Shiva (The destroyer). Quran and Surah 42 Ash-Shuraa; to Background of Hebrew Bible and the New Testament’s Religious Perception of Trans-Identity and its Interpretation in the 21st Century India.
1. Beasley, Chris. Gender and Sexuality - Critical Theories, Critical Thinkers. New York: Sage Publications Ltd, 2005. https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/gender-and-sexuality/book211149.
2. Tripathi, L. Me Hijra, Me Laxmi. Trans. R Raja Rao & P.G. Joshi. New Delhi: OUP, 2015. https://india.oup.com/product/me-hijra-me-laxmi-9780199458264.
3. Delli Swararao, K. “Hijras And Their Social Life in South Asia”. Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research (IJIR), Vol-2, Issue-4, 2016, pp 515-521. https://ijellh.com/OJS/index.php/OJS/article/download/5970/5035/8115.
4. Michelraj, M. “Historical Evolution of Transgender Community in India.” Asian Review of Social Sciences. Vol-4, No 1, 2015, pp 17-19. https://trp.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ARSS-Vol.4-No.1-Jan-June-2015-pp.17-19.pdf.
5. Subapriya, K. “Unveiling the Crisis of Transgender in India: A Study of Living Smile Vidya’s Autobiography.” Veda’s Journal of English Language and Literature (JOELL), Vol-3, Issue-1, 2016, pp. 59-64. http://oaji.net/articles/2017/488-1528699746.pdf.
6. Agoramoorthy, Govindasamy, and Minna J. Hsu. “Living on the Societal Edge: India's Transgender Realities.” Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 54, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1451–1459. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24485502.
7. Surah 42 Ash-Shuraa, verse 49-50: The dominion of the heavens and the earth belongs to Allah. He creates whatever He pleases. He grants females to whomever He pleases and males to whomever He pleases (42:50) or grants them a mix of males and females, and causes whomever He pleases to be barren. He is All- Knowing, All-Powerful. https://quran.com/42.
8. Ibn ‘Abbās r.a. said: Rasūlullāh (peace be upon him) cursed men who resemble women and women who resemble men. (Al-Bukhārī, 2002, p. 1485). https://journal.uinsgd.ac.id/index.php/ijni/article/download/6138/3384.
9. Ibn ‘Abbās said that the prophet coursed a man who resemble women and women who resemble men. The prophet said: “Get them out of your house”. Ibn ‘Abbās said: The prophet got a man out and ‘Umar got a woman out. (Al-Bukhārī, 2002, p. 1486). https://sunnah.com/bukhari/59.
10. Abū Hurairah said that Rasulullah (peace be upon him) cursed men who dress up women’s clothing and women who dress up men’s clothing. (Abū Dāwūd, 2009, p195).https://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=32&translator=3&start=0&number=4088.
11. From Ibn ‘Abbās r.a. that Rasulullah (peace be upon him) cursed to people who mediating (help) men to resemble women and women to resemble men (Ḥanbal, n.d., p. 123). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5272885/.
12. From Abū Hurairah he said: One day the transgender perpetrator who colored his fingernail and toenail with henna. Therefore, the prophet asked them: “What is wrong with this guy?” They answered: “O Rasulullah, this guy resembled women”. So he commanded to punish this person, and this person was exiled to the place called Naqī‘. They asked Rasulullah: “O Rasulullah, why do not just kill him?” He answered: “I was forbidden to kill one who prayed”. Abū Usāmah said, “Naqī‘ is a place in the suburb of Madinah and it is not Baqī‘ (Abū Dāwūd, 2009b, pp. 288–289). https://academic.oup.com/jis/article-abstract/20/1/1/857157.
13. O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that may you know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Yayasan Penyelenggara Penterjemah/ Pentafsir Al-Qur’an, 2004, p. 517). http://repository.unissula.ac.id/1939/3/DAFTAR%20PUSTAKA_1.pdf.
14. Punt, Jeremy. “Sex, Gender and liminality in biblical texts: Venturing into postcolonial, queer biblical interpretation.” Neotestamentica, vol. 41, no. 2, 2007, pp. 382–398. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43048642.